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The Maltese Falcon: From Book To Film

 

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With Dashiell Hammett’s novel serving as a literary prototype for the hard-boiled detective genre, and the film adaptation arguably considered a model—if not the very first—of the film noir genre, both versions of The Maltese Falcon deserve examination for their consideration and influence within their respective mediums. Starring Private Eye Sam Spade at the center of this byzantine narrative, the almost comically convoluted plot revolves around the eponymous statuette of The Maltese Falcon—a bejeweled figure worth a significant sum of money that fuels the motives of each character. More importantly, the Falcon functions as an archetypal MacGuffin—a plot device term famously popularized by Hitchcock—as an object whose inherent nature bears little importance, so much as it catalyzes the characters’ pursuit of this object to reveal their true nature.

Nonetheless, as in so many of the film noirs to come, the story begins with a mysterious woman asking for help. The woman—Brigid O’Shaughnessy—enters the investigate offices of Archer & Spade for their assistance in apparently tracking down her sister. Though the two are suspicious of her story, Archer trails the man in question—only to be later shot dead. With the police now fingering Spade as a possible suspect, he begins his journey into both proving his innocence and avenging his partner’s death.

But first, he must contend with the peculiar character of Joe Cairo (Peter Lorre). While the book’s descriptions make the character’s homoerotic undertones undisguisably clear, the film must hint much more subtly toward such controversial character ideas for a film produced in 1941. Instead, Peter Lorre’s performance of Joe Cairo emphasizes such affects through his high-pitched voice, extremely polished attire, and scented handkerchief. That aside, Cairo first introduces information regarding the bird while searching Spade at gunpoint. Though Sam outmaneuvers him, he soon realizes that he is being trailed by a companion of Cairo named Willet—commonly referred to as the kid in the book—who doggedly trails the private eye throughout San Francisco in his search to reconnect with Brigid and determine her connection between his partner’s death and this strange statue of the Maltese Falcon.

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Eventually, Spade locates the looming figure operating behind the scenes of both Brigid and Cairo in the form of “The Fat Man” aka Gutman. Played to marvelous, memorable effect by Sydney Greenstreet, the perpetually jovial crime figure attempts to manipulate Spade in finding the valuable Falcon. As can be found in similar, heavily-plotted noirs of the time, the narrative from this point forward mostly allows for a series of tense dialogue exchanges, double-crossings, and a climactic confrontation for all parties in which their object of desire—The Falcon—serves to illuminate the true intentions of each character and challenge those aspects of their personality formerly considered resolute.

Besides these genre precedents, the film also helped initiate the careers of both director John Huston and star Humphrey Bogart into those iconic roles which would later cement their legacies. Having collaborated with Bogart as a writer on the early heist film High Sierra (1941), where the young Bogie owned his first true staring role as the leader of the heist, Huston and Bogart would use the successful reception of this first partnership to ascend both their careers in The Maltese Falcon. After the critical and box office success of this picture, Huston would pursue similar movies that would define his career, mostly in the crime genre; specifically: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, and The Asphalt Jungle. Meanwhile, Bogart would grow into an actor of legend just a year later when starring in the most famous film of his career: Casablanca.

Though two previous, failed adaptations of Hammett’s novel had already come to fruition, Huston managed to convince Warner Brothers into financing another by meticulously mapping out each shot beforehand in detailed storyboards and keeping the budget down to $300,000 on an eight-week-schedule. Perhaps more importantly, he also remained extremely faithful to the source material—reducing the already lean narrative of the novel into an almost word-for-word transformation from prose to picture.

Still, the single filmmaking aspect most worthy of praise that exalted the picture into a detective mystery far more compelling than its predecessors can be pinpointed to the cinematography. Roger Ebert and others have argued that cinematographer Arthur Edeson’s work deserves praise on par with that of Welles and Gregg Toland in Citizen Kane for its use of deep-focus, long takes, and low-angle shots. These low-angles are noteworthy for their inclusion of ceilings within interior rooms—a major achievement for the field since lighting and equipment were normally kept above this region of the frame to hide equipment. While also praiseworthy for their invention in this regard, these shots also work to thematic effect in visually enhancing many ideas about character. Most notably, these are utilized in shots of Sydney Greenstreet’s Mr. G, wherein the massive man of wealth and influence is continually framed from low-angle shots that emphasize his power and domineering influence upon the frame.

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Likewise, he and Edeson employ deep focus shots that ensure each detail in the foreground and background act in unison to highlight deeper thematic ideas—ensuring many long dialogue scenes are able to both convey necessary plot exposition and retain the viewer’s attention from a visual standpoint. Moreover, the use of a long take in a nearly seven-minute-long shot between Spade and Gutman deserves exceptional praise. Though the take does not call attention to itself in the manner that has made so many other long takes famous, the unbroken shot observes Gutman slowly waiting for Spade to pass out from his drugged drink. The viewer wallows in both the tension and patience of the scene, and Huston wisely never interrupts the shot to pander down to audiences as to the why this scene deserves to play out for such an extended time. Though this exact parallel between Toland and Edeson may be a bit of a stretch, the cinematography on display still deserves its reputable acclaim.

Still, though the film’s technical achievements are worthy of all the esteemed praise accumulated over the decades, the film’s genre and character precedents remain its most relevant legacy. Bogart inhabits the smug, cold, yet oddly charismatic character of Spade with confident swagger and delineates a portrait of the hardened detective that would inhabit the noir genre to the point of cliché. What separates Spade from the imitators, however, can be found in the stirring sense of pathos—one which will soon be starkly illuminated in the climax.

Like the novel, the final scene plays out as one long dialogue scene that begins as a negotiation and concludes in a cold arrest. The nearly twenty-minute long scene plays out almost identically to that of the novel, though the book includes a scene of Spade strip-searching O’Shaughnessy in an act of humiliation that truly reveals Spade’s hard heart—foreshadowing the dark aspect of this character to be crystallized within the climax.

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After the Falcon has been revealed as an imitation, and the original “Fall Guy” of the Kid has escaped, Gutman and Spade mutually agree to depart with no harm to the other (though Spade manages to take a few hundred dollars from him “for his troubles”). Left alone with his love interest O’Shaughnessy, the woman who originally entangled Spade within the affairs of the Falcon, she appeals to Spade no longer as an ally or client—but as a lover. She raises questions of their relationship, of love, but Spade’s true nature finally reveals itself when he bluntly explains that he will be handing her over to the police. Though apparent true tears emerge from the woman’s eyes, begging him for mercy and for him to escape with her for a new life, Sam can only explain in his famous last lines:

“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it…I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck…The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”

Despite Sam’s brutal message and Brigid’s look of absolute horror, the speech gives the best indication yet into Spade’s character and what separates this species of investigator from the others: a code.

While Brigid may have actually loved Sam, her ambiguous nature left little in the way for a man like Sam to love her back. Even though he may not have even liked Archer (and was holding an affair with his wife, as well), and though he may have liked Brigid in some other circumstance, his code dictates that he has a certain duty to fulfill—one that he has accomplished by the end of the story—and one that, for better or worse, leaves him back where he began.

The one major, final difference between the book and movie lies in the film’s famous last line. After a cop asks Spade as to what exactly the Maltese Falcon is, he replies: “The stuff that dreams are made of”. Though reports vary in crediting this line to either Bogart or Huston, the line works as a variation of dialogue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” The line does not need much analysis in the way of deciphering its symbolic significance in relation to what the Falcon has represented: a device that fueled the dreams for those seeking greater glories, riches, and a happier life…only to come away with nothing but an imitation.

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Although the film is almost a word-for-word adaptation of a novel, it does leave out one chapter of significance that highlights this idea of chasing something better only to return to a similar life as that which came before. In the chapter titled “Flitcraft”, Spade relates the story of a case from early in his career, which involved a man named Charles Flitcraft. Spade had been assigned to track down this Charles Flitcraft—a successful businessman from Tacoma—who had seemingly abandoned his family. Following his private investigation, Spade discovers that Flitcraft was nearly killed by a falling beam from a construction site, and though the nearly fatal beam just missed him to spare his life, the businessman remained deeply shaken from the experience. As a result, he decided to leave this life behind in search of a new one. His new life, however, came to find Flitcraft as a man in charge of a new business, with a new wife, not far from his original town of Tacoma—clearly unaware how closely his new life resembled the old one.

The point of Flitcraft’s story—and one that makes Spade’s own ending with the Falcon all the more haunting—relates to the this theme of a man being unable to change his true nature, arguably due to the code which so defines Spade’s character. With the Falcon acting as The MacGuffin in this case—a thing that dreams are made of, whatever that may—each character comes to chase this idol of hope only to return to that original life from which they started their doomed journey. Cairo, Gutman, and Willet return to their worldwide search of the actual Falcon, Brigid remains a woman in fear for her life (now under a pending death penalty), and Spade returns back to his office—ready for the next case.

Now having experienced an episode in the career of Sam Spade, the viewer can better understand and contextualize the cynical weariness that has turned this private investigator into a shell of a human being. A man who understands the importance of a code above all else, and who’s able to recognize the futility of chasing a better life that will only return the pursuer back to a life not too dissimilar from the start. Ultimately, Spade recognizes that all these things under the umbrella of “stuff that dreams are made of” represented by the Falcon – a new life, a better woman, untold riches, the solving of a case—are only ever just that for men of a certain nature: ephemeral goals capable of casting the illusion of change, only to crumble over time when a man must return to his true nature and follow the law of his own code.

While the weary, detached detective would become a defining element of noir in the ensuing years, Spade’s sad fate as a man forced to return to a lonely lifestyle defined by a rigid code serves as a significant example of how this noir archetypes and his function within the larger narrative recontextualizes such ideas with profound thematic meaning that relates to dark ideas of both man and the mirage of dreams. As downbeat as such ideas may be, they represent the subversive tropes that came to define the film noir and detective genres at large—themes and characters represented in classic, captivating fashion as best found in the case of Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon.

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The Evil Dead Series: A Case Study in Genre and Tone

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In the summer of 1979, a then-twenty-year-old Sam Raimi—along with friends Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert—began production on the film intended to initiate his career which would later be titled The Evil Dead. Although having previously made short comedies, the filmmakers were inspired by the success of cheap horror movies found at the local drive-ins and endeavored to make a film found in the same genre. However, the filmmakers did not merely regurgitate the same clichés and tropes that often populated these predictable pictures; but instead, they amplified those conventions to new genre extremes and produced a remarkably distinguished first film as a result.

More surprising and noteworthy, however, lies in the gradual phenomena of this first The Evil Dead movie that would spawn a sequel, a trilogy, a remake, a musical, comic books, videogames, and an upcoming TV show—a truly bizarre franchise built from the foundations of its own bizarre style and tone. For although the first film remained rooted in the horror films from which it was inspired, the successive sequels would never return exactly to that same tone and style. Instead, each film moved just left of center—with each consecutive entry adopting different genre and tonal elements that would separate every film from its predecessor—while still managing to playfully expand upon those larger, recognizable icons of the series that attracted initial audiences.

maxresdefaultAs mentioned, the debut film sets itself squarely within the realm of the horror genre—only to magnify certain genre conventions to the extreme while also managing to establish some new ones. Having just arrived after the birth of the teen slasher, (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th), The Evil Dead isolates these college students in a remote cabin surrounded by woods, marshes, and a thick atmosphere of menace that seems to saturate every scene. More importantly, it is their exploration of the cabin’s subterranean cellar that the five find the taped recordings of the Naturom Demonto (Necronomicon Ex-Mortis in later films)—the Sumerian grimoire capable of unleashing supernatural entities that lie somewhere between the demonically possessed and a zombie—called Deadites.

From this point forward, the premise essentially serves as a vehicle for Raimi and his cohorts to employ every conceivable gag fueled by their imagination and able to be materialized by their shoestring budget. More impressively, and to similar effect as the nonfunctioning shark of Spielberg’s Jaws, these budgetary limitations were often responsible for some of the film’s most creative moments. For instance, the filmmakers conceived of a camera effect that simulates the effect of a rapidly “whooshing” spirit accelerating toward the cabin that still works to this day—and which would become a hallmark of the series.

And while these small hints of horror help raise tension, it does not take long for these supernatural spirits to turn truly mean and nasty. In the series’ most infamous moments, Cheryl chases a menacing spirit into the surrounding woods, where a tree paralyzes, attacks, then rapes her. As ridiculous as such an idea sounds in print, the execution of the scene leaves the audience in genuine discomfort—as the visualization of this metaphorical horror of rape situates the audience squarely within the position of being a woman under the control of a cruel and relentless entity beyond her power to overcome.

Although the rules remain a bit fuzzy throughout the series as to who becomes infected by the deadites, when, why, etc., the chaotic nature of not having a clearly defined mythology also allows for a unique sense of surprise to be a weapon always within the filmmakers’ grasp—one to be deployed quite often. For following Cheryl’s attack, she becomes the first full-fledged deadite to appear—revealing a gruesomely deformed face, eerie voice, and supernatural powers—though the group manages to lock and chain her in the cellar, where she serves as another element of suspense just outside the edge of frame.

For a film with this budget, the effects are beyond commendable. They offer not just a repeat of the Romero zombies, nor a cheap imitation of Reagan from The Exorcist, but a very peculiar visual presentation of these Evil Dead. Raimi’s decision to continually employ POV shots from beneath the cellar works as an especially creative effect—one that would become a favorite choice of the filmmaker throughout the rest of his career.

A number of other noteworthy moments occur within this first film. The possession of Ash’s girlfriend—Shelly—stand out as particular highlight, along with the many, many ways the filmmakers figure for buckets of blood, gore, and other gross-out moments to proliferate on-screen. But more than even these admirable moments of inventive craft put forth by the young filmmakers, it’s the specific tone of this first film that demands particular attention.

There’s a very fine line between horror and comic absurdity in which this film—and much of Raimi’s filmography—thrives. While the second veers more definitely toward a horror/comedy, and the third would inhabit a singular genre somewhere between fantasy, horror, and comedy—the first wears a very clear coat of horror, though elements of both the comedic and the absurd still find ways to sneak through the cracks.

Moreover, the first film can be classified most definitely within the horror genre for an atmosphere of dread that hangs over the majority of the running time. There are slow-building sequences meant to evoke a clear sense of terror and imminent doom that is absent from later sequels. In doing so, the film retains an inimitable tone that allows this distinct genre quality to remain evident to this day, despite the deluge of imitators that have followed in its wake. Moreover, this unique quality is mostly manifested through the series’ main character:

Ash.

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While instances like Cheryl’s rape and her subsequent imprisonment through the cellar (along with the famous “What’s wrong with her eyes” line) transmit the feeling of unnerving supernatural horror at the story’s premise, the filmmakers are also able to recognizable the similar, absurd nature of the supernatural. Bruce Campbell’s character of Ash serves as perhaps the best vehicle for this idea. While other characters (and any rational human being placed into these gruesome circumstances) would no doubt react with some form of shock or adrenaline-filled survival instincts, Ash reacts with an attitude of someone seemingly born with the destiny of killing Deadites (an idea that would be conceived literally in later sequels). Despite seeing his sister, his girlfriend, and his friend undergo these monstrous perversities from the dead, Ash appears to almost revel—and thrive—within these circumstances.

In doing so, he transfers some of this glee to the audience. What begins as the slow stalking of five friends within an isolated cabin transforms into something closer to a carnival show—though one that still retains an atmosphere of dread. While this veil of dread that hangs over much of the first film would be considerably reduced in the sequels, the original film remains so inimitable and relevant for being able to so expertly straddle within this distinct territory.

Still, this is not a criticism of the later films—just an observation of the stark differences that separate each entry. For when the filmmakers returned for the sequel in Evil Dead II, they opted not to return to that same realm which they had successfully conquered in the original. Instead, the filmmakers retained the most recognizable elements and moved in favor of focusing on an absurdist comedy with horror elements, rather than a horror with elements of absurd—as seen in the original.

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Again, Ash serves as perhaps the best embodiment of the film’s tone. From the start, the sequel abandons the atmosphere of dread that crept over the first film, and instead, it chooses to embrace a tone closer to the slapstick of The Three Stooges somehow mixed with those horror elements introduced in its predecessor. Ash’s initial fight with his Deadite-girlfriend, his battle against his own hand that results in his chopping off the appendage then replacing it with a chainsaw, the Looney Toones-like appearance of the bridge that cuts off the cabin from the mainland—all representative of the adoration for absurdist comedy roots that the sequel so warmly embraces.

In some ways, the film may represent an aspect of Raimi that the rest of his filmography has yet to find compare. A film that manages to merge all his genre obsessions: horror, slapstick, excellent sense of rapid-pace editing, and larger-than-life storytelling that are all so idealized within this sequel. Whether one prefers that atmosphere of dread in the original, or this gleeful amalgamation of comedy and horror that so defines the sequel, Raimi’s command of craft and clear ability to modulate both genre and tone in service of his vision remain without debate.

And yet, despite these successes in both genre arenas, the filmmakers shifted for another—much, much more radical shift in tone—with the series’ third entry: Army of Darkness. With the conclusion of Evil Dead II having exiled Ash through a time portal and into the medieval past, the film now adopts a tone that retains some of the tongue-in-cheek/slapstick comedy of the second, the recognizable horror elements of the first, and fully embraces an entirely new realm for these former hallmarks to play: Fantasy.

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Outside the most surface-level horror qualities (skeletons, gore, the Necronomicon, blood, etc.)—the atmospheric horror of dread that so saturated the first film and still seeped itself into the sequel—that horror has been overhauled in favor of a more fantastic arena for Ash’s continual battle with the Evil Dead. Again, this is not necessarily a criticism, as a point of comparison for the series’ continual genre expansion.

Instead, Army of Darkness maneuvers its comedic touchstones into some of the series’ most iconic one-liners, while also allowing the slowly evolving action hero of Ash to fulfill his status in the most literal way. Ash’s fights against his alter-ego—Evil Ash—with his shotgun and chainsaw as weapons against an army of skeletons—plays out with all the fun and adventure of a Frank Frazetta painting brought to life then filtered through Raimi’s imagination. Campbell, as well, has been afforded his first true vehicle to shine as a charismatic action star (even more so than II which still had bits of an ensemble) and both delivers beyond expectations while also helping carry some of the film’s weaker moments. His tongue-in-cheek confrontations with the medieval knights, his methods of crowd control through the demonstration of his boomstick, and his refusal to ever correctly recalls the right words to the Necronomicon all play to hilarious effect.

Finally, after more than a twenty-year-lapse, the franchise found itself resurrected in a remake that dropped the “the” and simply presented itself as Evil Dead. With Raimi on board as a producer rather than as a director for the first time in franchise history, the remake returns to the horror roots of the series’ past. However, the remake is a curious beast. On the one hand, it’s admirable that they committed to telling their own premise—of helping a young woman named Mia go cold turkey and isolating her in the cabin in the woods to do so. With the genre trope of teenagers merely retreating to an isolated cabin for a vacation being so worn out and spoofed in the decades since the original’s debut, this interesting spin works as an intriguing twist on a now-worn-out premise.

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Moreover, in terms of genre, newcomer Fede Alvarez refuses to hold back in delivering a brutal, explicitly gory version of the Evil Dead into this reinvention. The remake retains the series’ hallmarks—sometimes to clunky effect—such as the Necronomicon, the chainsaw, a possessed hand, trapping someone in the cellar—and though some of these franchise staples are able to be organically weaved into this new premise, there are some moments that feel like awkward fan-servicing.

Still, following the original and its sequel, this remake would probably rank just above Army of Darkness. The gory horror of this go-around can be effective at times—there are some truly squirm-inducing moments that viewers are unlike to forget. Although some ideas like the supernatural witch of the cold opening or merging the Mia character into both the Ash/Cheryl role are interesting, these updates never explore the full potential of their concepts or figure out a way to seamlessly merge their mythology with that of the original. Though the cold-turkey-drug-addiction idea is an intriguing one, this too feels like wasted potential in the race to service all the iconic scenes of the series’ past.

In terms of tone and genre, however, there are two absences that are most responsible for the biggest differences between the remake and its original. The first lies in the choice to pursue a type of horror more focused on the shock of gore than the atmospheric horror found in the first. Due to both the budget and the decision to pursue a mood of terror, The Evil Dead offers a type of horror than leans more toward one of disturbing the viewer than one of pure shock value. Both Cheryl’s rape and locking her in the cellar—continuing to taunt from beneath with her unnerving voice—serving as perhaps the best examples of this.

In the remake, the scares lean much heavier on the shock and vividness of the gore, rather than an imbuing a sense of atmosphere. Many of the sequences are executed without a sense of escalation; instead, the gore just tends to “happen” before the narrative transitions to the next sequence. This is not necessarily a criticism, as the filmmakers are committed to executing their gory take on the series and succeed in this effort—as the gore is truly commendable and capable of creating some of the best contributions in this specific regard to the horror genre for the post-2000 period.

The second most obvious and noteworthy differences lies in the absence of Ash. Knowing that the series’ icon only exists when embodied by Campbell, the filmmakers were wise to reroute the story in the form of a new character: Mia. Again, her twist on the tale as a drug addict attempting to go clean is interesting, and the decision to anchor her character at the forefront works for the most part—especially in regard to the ending. The cost of losing Campbell’s Ash, however, results in arguably the most crucial ingredient for translating the specific tone of the series to the audience.

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As mentioned, Ash’s reactions to the supernatural horrors around him are responsible for the blend of true horror and absurd comedy that is so emblematic of the series. With Mia’s possession, the tone turns into one of a more typical horror film. Again, though the remake works well for the most part—and has some spectacular gore effects that deserve praise—it’s the loss of this quality of tone that remains the most significant difference between the remake and the work of Raimi.

For although those aspects of terror found in most horror films are found within Evil Dead—e.g. teenagers in the woods picked off one-by-one, gross-out moments of gore—Bruce Campbell’s Ash character stands as the iconic element that delineates between the weird mix of horror and gleeful absurdity that separate The Evil Dead from more typical horror films. Indeed, Ash’s role in each film helps orient the viewer into the specific tone found in each: whether it’s the more atmospheric horror of the first, the mix of slapstick/absurdist comedy horror in the second, or the action-hero in a world of fantasy found in the third—Ash’s character has evolved into the ultimate icon for defining each entry.

While the remake works effectively, and serves as an interesting exercise in gaining insight into how the series functions, Ash’s involvement seems more integral to the series’ future than that of the Deadites or the other more recognizable horror elements that have been imitated by other films since the original’s debut. Still, besides it’s iconic character, what seems to separate this series and allowed its continued interest over the decades for fans both old and new, can be found in its choice of continued genre expansion.

Each entry refuses to retreat into delivering something that has been seen previously, and whether it succeeds as successfully or not, the decision to always push the series toward new genre territories should be celebrated and applauded. Additionally, with the series now having been translated into a variety of mediums—from a musical, to comic books, video games, and a new TV series on the way—audience interest in all-things Evil Dead remains as relevant as ever with no signs of decline. One hopes that those responsible will continue the legacy of delivering the most recognizable elements that audiences love while also honoring the tradition of pushing the series toward new genre grounds that has come to be the most defining features found in the bizarre series that is The Evil Dead.

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Mad Max: Fury Road – The Next Entry in the Best Action Series

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In a crowded landscape of action movies attempting to dazzle audiences through an abundance of special effects and increasing scope of story, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road manages to subvert both tropes in the service of the two most important aspects of storytelling that make the action matter: characters and theme. Though the fourth film in the series still offers jaw-dropping spectacles and astonishing set-pieces that allow for its ranking as the current benchmark for pure action filmmaking, one can easily miss how remarkably well this story also manages to weave ideas of character and theme (through mostly visual means) in order to raise the emotional stakes that allow for these action sequences to obtain their remarkable power.

Much to the frustration of more literal-minded audiences that desperately cling for continuity, Miller has again opted to basically uphold only the titular character of the franchise and his strange setting somewhere in a post-apocalyptic future. The first film—Mad Max—works effectively to present Max’s transformation as a figure of authority in the MFP to his new identity as a lone gun working outside traditional society. Mad Max is a great, mean film—one that helped launch the career of both Miller and Mel Gibson, while also helping to explode the Ozploitation movement on a national level. Nonetheless, the film also misses the true sense of minimalist storytelling, streamlined action, and unprecedented set pieces that would ultimately define the franchise to come.

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Yes, admittedly, this is still low budget filmmaking at its best. Miller works wonders with a budget in the thousands to produce a movie that launched his career and innovative car chases that are still imitated by lesser films to this day. Moreover, the first Mad Max imbues a sense of raw, mean, rough-around-the-edges quality that is part of its lasting charm. The scene of Toecutter taunting Max’s wife for her “pretty face”—threatening to kill her and her baby while Max is out of sight—is brutal. Miller applies a sense of atmosphere, palpable tension, and escalating sense of uneasiness to magnificent effect. Afterward, with his wife and family taken from him, Max Rockatansky transforms into Mad Max—donning his iconic costume and hunting down the violent gang until the creative, final conclusion that would be reused to launch the Saw franchise decades later.

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Nonetheless, like all great sequels, Miller uses his follow-up film to expand and intensify those pieces of story established in the original entry in order to indulge his sensibilities to their most ambitious effect. The Road Warrior—titled so for those unaware of the first Mad Max (and thereby indicative of the very loose connective tissue between the films)—elevates the unique mythology of Miller’s imagination to its fullest extent. Max now resembles something closer to the Leone western hero. A mythic, more archetypal figure of the lone wanderer that wiggles his way into moral conflicts of good and evil between the underdog and the domineering faction which he will help defeat.

Most importantly, The Road Warrior presents those hallmarks of Miller’s creative inclinations that would define the franchise as a whole: inventive, visual character designs, a streamlined plot, and set pieces that would raise the bar for action filmmaking across the spectrum. Specifically, in terms of the latter, the semi-truck chase between Max, the villagers, and Humungus’ gang, stands as one of the best chase sequences in film history. Often-cited as inspiration for those chase sequences that would later attempt to rival it—Speed, Terminator 2, Matrix Reloaded—no film has still yet been able to cater to those assortment of inventive and extraordinary inclusions that make that chase so unique: the gyro-copter, the bizarre vehicles, the outrageous character designs, the multitude of weapons that Max must defend against while attempting to steer the truck to safety. Additionally, the film displays the pulse-pounding editing and furious sense of pacing—coupled with a clear sense of action geography—that would ascend this chase toward its ranking as the peak of action filmmaking for its time.

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Lastly, though a film marred by bizarre storytelling choices in craft its second half, the first half of Max Mad: Beyond Thunderdome presents further evidence for cementing the franchise’s legacy as the most inventive in its class. Though co-directed by George Ogilivie due to Miller’s difficulty in following through with the production in the wake of his producing partner’s death (Byron Kennedy), Beyond Thunderdome contains creative choices that simply don’t work in the latter half. The sound effects in particular, during the children’s takeover of the underworld, are almost comically out-of-place for a franchise whose strongest connective tissue can be found in its tone. Despite the memorable, idiosyncratic, and bizarrely lovable qualities of the feral child in Road Warrior, the entire inclusion of the tribal children in Thunderdome feels out of place. Tonally, they resemble something closer to The Goonies (released only a month earlier), the Lost Boys, or a watered-down Lord of the Flies. While this is not a criticism in of itself, it’s the fact that they are so conventionally identifiable from a visual standpoint that marks them as so out of place from a franchise where almost every other imaginable trope has been so utterly reinvented and distinctly tailored for this series.

Still, the first-half—and in particular, the Thunderdome sequence of the title—are Miller and the world of Mad Max at their best. Bartertown feels like an expansion of Humungus’ gang into an entire population of bizarre characters each with their own unique histories and identifies instantly recognizably from their visual design—none more so than the infamous Master and Blaster. Though Tina Turner’s Aunty is undeniably the weakest villain entry the series, she does lend a further sense of eccentric distinction that must be commended.

Max’s fight with Blaster within the gladiatorial Thunderdome itself—a wirework gladiatorial arena where the warriors fight one another while suspended by bungee chords and must seize whatever weapons are proffered by the spectators—stands as one of the most influential and gloriously inventive action set pieces ever conceived. One that has been imitated countless times since. Between Miller’s instant subverting of expectations when Max is able to find Blaster’s weakness, or the embracing of every conceivable creative weapon (chainsaws, swords, spikes), the Thunderdome set piece remains an ingenious playground for Miller’s imagination to filter his action fetishes in the apparently conclusion of Mad Max Trilogy. Though thankfully, this was not to be the case. As thirty years, Fury Road finally returned Miller to the fourth entry in his Mad Max series.

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The Max of Fury Road is a mad animal. With sparse news reports and vague voice-overs for those unfamiliar to the series, he is now a shaggy-haired beast of a human being—feeding himself from (two-headed) rodents and only living to survive. He is immediately captured, his vehicle stolen from him, and destined for life as a blood-bag for the Warboys—servants of Immortan Joe, the leader of the Citadel. However, on this particular day, Imperator Furiosa—tasked with driving a War Rig to retrieve gasoline—has stolen his five wives and intends to deliver them safely to the mysterious Green Place.

Despite the change from Gibson to Hardy, and a higher budget that truly allows for Miller’s imagination to flourish, Miller wisely ensures that the narrative never inflates disproportionately to the simple story at the center of the chase. Similar to how Bartertown felt like Humungus’ gang expanded into a city, Fury Road feels like the chase sequence of Road Warrior expanded into an entire narrative. Most interesting, and different for the series, is that this film is domineered more by Furiosa than by Max. While Max is again the lone warrior now tangled up in helping the others, he also comes to learn the value of companionship in a manner very much in line, though still starkly different, than what has previously been seen of his character throughout the series.

As a blood-bag, the idea of Max as a primal, animalistic being is emphasized more than ever. He is literally muzzled like a dog for most of the beginning, and the few sounds he initially makes when meeting Furiosa are mere grunts. When he first meets Furiosa and the wives, he needs their help in cutting off the chain upholding his muzzle, essentially cutting loose his leash. Still, even when Furiosa asks his name, Max maintains his animalistic nature by refusing to offer one, asking instead: “Does it even matter?”

But unlike the villagers of Road Warrior or the Tribal Children of Thunderdome, Furiosa and the wives are as important to Max’s survival and capable of carrying their own thematic weight as to elevate the action scenes more than ever before. When Immortan Joe and his followers first see that Furiosa has veered from the course, and the warlord moves to investigate, the audience quickly understands their horrifying prison—and glimpses of their backstory—in a matter of seconds. “We are Not Things” is scrawled within their sanctum, along with “Who Killed The World”, brief but powerful visual lines that sum up a backstory more than any long, expository monologue could ever entail.

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Furthermore, and easy to miss because it is so quickly glimpsed: various green plants decorate the interior of the sanctum when Joe is rushing inside to find his five wives—a detail with important implications for the plot’s latter half. Later, freed from their prison, Furiosa cuts a vagina dentata-esque chain clearly used by Joe further enslave the wives. This idea of the women as property—beings incapable of serving their own agency—works tremendously well in the context of not only a Mad Mad movie, but a chase movie in particular, where the characters are literally driving to free themselves from the confines of a city of men that enslaved them.

As the major storyline revolves around this one major chase between Immortan Joe and Max/Furiosa/the five wives, Miller retains his eye for clear, choreographed actions and fast-paced editing that keeps the audience on edge, but he also escalates the tension through character and theme as has never been so strongly seen within the series. While the two characters start out as uneasy combatants, only agreeing to work with one another in agreement of their mutual destruction, Max quickly begins to help these women.

His help, of course, arrives in the form of a series of jaw-dropping chase sequences—each of which builds and manages to top that which came before it. After a chase from creatively inventive “spiky” cars, Miller catapults the chase into an epic sandstorm where the environment is as much an antagonist for Max/Furiosa as their pursuers. He switches from the awesome, grand scale of the sand storm to the close, hand-to-hand combat fight between Max and Furiosa. This is followed by a chase from grenade-throwing cyclists, then a chase in the stark blue night of the Wasteland…so on.

In each scenario, Miller utilizes every premise imaginable for yet another reinvention of a common chase sequence. From fending off grenade-throwing bikers, to being stuck in the mud, to the pole-swaying kidnappers that populate the ineffably amazing final chase, Max and Furiosa realize that there only chance of survival is to trust in one another. Though the first half is clearly designed as a non-stop thrill ride based purely on survival and escape from Immortan Joe, the War Rig’s arrival at the “Green Place” alters the narrative trajectory toward themes of grander purpose. After now finding that this utopia of women and vegetation has long gone to the ravages of the Wasteland, Max, Furiosa, and the Vulvani women resolve to venture back the way they came: back toward the Citadel.

Additionally, Miller introduces the character of Nux—a warboy convert to whom Max previously served as the blood-bag but has now turned to help their cause. No supporting character has ever had as transitional an arc within the Mad Max realm as Nux, who further highlights themes of cooperation seen throughout the piece. As he later risks sacrificing himself toward the cause for which he was previously fighting against, his addition to the gang in their return across the canyon injects yet another layer of tension toward the finale and Miller’s ability to use the arcs of the protagonist to elevate the depth of the action.

While most filmmakers believe that raising the stakes can only be found through the introduction of new effects, new plot lines, bigger villains, etc., Miller proves that by continually increasing the emotional stakes and the dangers of what is already known—in additional to the pulse-pounding and innovative final chase sequence back through the canyon—how Fury Road manages to make such an action scene so compelling beyond just its action scenes. These are sequences where the stakes of more than just their mere survival are at stake—but in toppling oppressive ideologies that have haunted this region—not to mention their only individual hopes of redemption at stake. From Max’s hope to help save someone, as he does with Furiosa in donating his blood (as his flashbacks repeatedly show his failure to save a child), to Furiosa’s hope for redemption in toppling Joe where she failed before (as demonstrated by the Immortan Joe brand on her neck), to Nux’s hope for salvation in death, all of Miller’s protagonists are given satisfying resolutions to their individual problems—while in the midst of a death-defying chase across the desert canyon.

As Max helps complete his own arc toward becoming a man again, removed from the bestial animal at the start of the film, he finally confesses that his name is Max—having learned that it does matter—before he disappears back into the Wasteland. A man who has found some form of redemption through helping others achieve their redemption, as well. Though these themes are there beneath the surface, Miller never sacrifices storytelling or entertaining action sequences to spell them out for the viewer. Instead, as he always done, Miller uses all his tricks at his disposable to push the boundaries of action filmmaking to their furthest extent. Mad Max: Fury Road—though littered with grand spectacle and special effects—never forgets its tradition of using a simple premise to indulge in the most spectacular array of action sequences possible. Moreover, like Max, George Miller proves why this all matters. He shows how powerfully well-constructed action set pieces propelled by emotionally thematic ideals only enhances the destruction on screen—demonstrating why this character, franchise, and its director—why the world of Mad Max at large…has mattered to so many fans for so many years…and how Fury Road upholds this tradition for the legacy of the series.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode Eight. “Form and Void” Recap & Review

“Form and Void”

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Calling to mind the very first shot of episode one, “Form and Void”—True Detective’s series finale—opens in similar fashion: with the killer. This time, however, his identity is now fully revealed to be that of Errol Childress—the man with the scars identified at the conclusion of Episode Seven. Within the shed of their abandoned Childress property, Errol is in the midst of horribly torturing a man lying bloody in a room surrounded by bloody, scrawled writing. That man is revealed to be his father, when Errol remarks “Bye, daddy” before stepping out to join his sister in the big house.

Within the decrepit mansion deep in the Bayou backwoods, Errol and this possibly mentally-retarded sister are living in absolute squalor: childish toys are strewn about, dishes are stacked like skyscrapers, and old VHS tapes are piled throughout the space. As an old Cary Grant movie plays upon the TV, Errol begins imitating the voice—almost as though practicing. He later remarks to his sister, “it’s been weeks since I left my mark”. As the two begin to fondle each other, the camera retreats far out the deep bayou wilderness and arrives…

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Back with Marty, Rust, and Geraci on the boat. The two former detectives force Geraci to watch the Marie Fontenot tape at gunpoint, then interrogate him for further answers. Geraci, however, can only honestly say that the Childress report was “filed in error” and that he was following a “chain of command”. When leaving Geraci, Cohle warns him about any harm coming their way with the fact that their story is ready to be shipped to all the major newspapers, along with warning sniper-gunfire from the bar owner.

At a nearby school, Errol is shown painting a schoolyard wall (yellow), while eyeing the children during recess. Meanwhile, Marty and Cohle return to their work at the former’s office to look at their old clues with fresh eyes, “like we’re totally green” as per Cohle. This prompts Marty to stare upon the former drawing of the “green-eared spaghetti-monster”, where he questions the detail of the green ears. This incites his investigation into pictures of a green house, where he notices an undeniably new set of fresh green paint, and puts forth his theory that the “spaghetti-monster” may have been the one responsible for painting the house.

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In the car on the way over to the residence, the two discuss: their former fight, Marty cheating and Rust’s tryst with Maggie, and more philosophical ideas of values and identity. When arriving at the home with a now faded-green exterior, they are then able to track down the former owner, which then leads them to finding the business—Childress & Sons—by tracking down tax records.

Knowing that they may be facing death, the two instruct the former sniper-wielding bar owner with sending the story and necessary evidence to the papers and authorities. Afterward, Marty secretly meets with Papania. The detective formerly interviewing Marty and suspicious of Rust can tell that the two have been up to something, and though reticent to be involved in their pursuit, agrees that he will take the call.

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The two then begin their drive out to the Childress residence, where Marty asks Rust about his visions, to which Rust explains: “What I have in my head, it’s not something that gets better”. Nearing the isolated home, Rust’s synesthesia reminds him of the aluminum taste experienced in Episode One, and upon finding the Childress residence—Rust immediately knows that this is the place. He tells Marty to call Papania, and due to poor cell reception, the former is forced to invade the house. Though the sister plays coy, Marty charges his way inside; wherein, he finds the house to be in an even worse state of squalor than previously thought: mutilated dolls and toys litter the upstairs, while dirt and filth seems to cover everything else.Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 11.25.33 PM

Rust, however, chases after Errol. He follows him into the numerous tunnels found in the back of the property, where he must wend his way around enormous versions of the twig-figure totems found earlier. Errol taunts Cohle throughout the ordeal, leading him onwards, calling him the “little priest”, and even referencing DeWall and Reggie.

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Finally, Rust finds the ceremonial chamber at the heart of Carcosa, where a bizarre looking collection of skeletons draped in yellow sit at a throne in center—the Yellow King. Rust’s gaze ascends toward the oval opening above, where he experiences a “vision” of the void—a dark blue, nebulous vortex—until he is stabbed by Errol. He lifts Rust above him, and the latter is able to head-butt his way into temporary safety, though writhes in the ground in bloodied pain. Marty arrives just in time, only to also be attacked by Errol. Just as he prepares to slam down on Marty’s head, Rust fires into Errol’s skull—blowing off his head and finally killing the killer of Dora Lange.

Papania, Gilbough, and a team of responders finally arrive—firing a flare that Marty manages to see—and screams for rescue. Cutting to the hospital afterward, Marty is found slowly recovering. Papania and Gilbough report further details of the Childress clan, though Marty waves them away from informing him of more gruesome horrors. Moments after, Maggie and his children arrive to comfort him. As Audrey, Macie, and Maggie ask how he’s doing, Marty feigns his usual level of masculinity and invincibility, only to slow break down in true tears of devastation.

As news clips give further report toward the uncovering of the Childress clan, Rust is found alive—but badly wounded. Soon after, Marty arrives to comfort him, but Rust finds himself almost incapable of believing in his recovery, reiterating “I shouldn’t be here” and his devastation that they weren’t able to catch “all of them”. To which Marty counters, “We ain’t gonna get ‘em all, but we got ours”.

Outside the hospital, Marty hands Rust a pack of smokes as a gift, then wheels him a bit farther out in the parking lot so that he may be allowed to smoke them. While there, Rust finally breaks down: retelling Marty his experience in the void of darkness, of finding his daughter, his father, and experiencing nothing but love…until he woke up. Possibly trying to cheer him up, Marty points to the stars above him—reminding Rust of his youth in Alaska, wherein Marty points out that the darkness covers a lot more territory than the light. While Marty tries to sneak Rust out of the hospital, he counters Marty’s observation about the stars, telling him: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning”.

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REVIEW

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With the setting now completely within the present, and the interviews similarly finished, the finale begins in very atypical fashion for the series by presenting an extended scene not from the point-of-view of either of our two detectives. Even more intriguing, it’s from the perspective of the one character of whom the two have been chasing over the previous seven hours—Errol Childress, the Man with the Scars, sporting a sign of the Yellow King symbol just below his neck (like with Dora Lange). His farewell to his father, whose mouth has been sewn shut and torso horribly mutilated, announces with both style and horror that this long, drawn-out confrontation is finally coming to an end.

As Errol moves into the abandoned manor shared with his slow sister, further evidence of the squalor inhabiting the lives of the Childress Clan is shown. Peeling wallpaper and mildewed portraits of their mother decorate the walls, while an enormous collection of child-like objects litter the floor. Most importantly, there are numerous VHS tapes of old movies that seem to be on a loop within the home. Though this could only be gleaned from interviews with Pizzolatto, the creator explains that Errol used these videos to learn to talk, due to the deformities of his scarred mouth. Moreover, the familial bond between these two—as further demonstrated by their surroundings—gives off the impression that these two are and live like overgrown children. In the way they interact, by their messy home, and fostered by their isolation from society, these two Childress children have matured into adults that retain childlike sensibilities both psychologically and in their relationship to the world.

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Nonetheless, Errol’s remark that it’s been “weeks since I left my mark” along with his sudden articulation that: “I have very important work to do. My ascension removes me from the disc in the loop, I’m near final stage…some mornings, I can see the infernal plane” allows for some deeper insight into this killer’s modus operandi. As will be further evidenced near the climax, Errol appears to be baiting the authorities for a confrontation—one who believes that his death (and those of his “acolytes”) will allow for his transcendence into a higher state of being—and a sense that this final confrontation will be happening sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the two detectives remain where they left off with Geraci on the boat at the end of Episode Seven. Though this scheme of interrogating him ultimately proves somewhat pointless, as he can only confirm what they already know (that Sheriff Ted Childress is responsible for the Fontenot report error), it does offer a nice sense of conclusion to Rust’s rivalry with his former coworker. Both in showing him the true horror of his actions when forcing him to watch the Fontenot tape, and when threatening him with the sniper rifle of the bar owner (and the destruction of his new car).

Back at the offices, Rust’s phrasing of looking over old evidence files like “we’re totally green” reminds Marty of their strongest piece of evidence yet—the image of the Spaghetti Monster with his green-tipped ears. In a moment of Sherlock-ian inspiration, Marty reconnects the green-tipped ears with the green painted-house—finally earning the highest possible compliment from Rust when he also realizes the connection and utters a “fuck you” to Marty.

On their way over to the green house, Marty attempts to bring closure to his feelings toward Rust, Maggie, and the fight. Though Rust replies with a typically complex philosophical response that leaves Marty befuddled—and elicits one of Marty’s most hilarious malapropisms with “what’s scented meat”—his argument that “everybody’s got a choice” argument actually represents a vastly different moral philosophy than that of Rust in his interview with the detectives, who argued more in line with the Nietzchian ideas of the eternal return (time is a flat circle), which would argue that people are not in control of their choices. Though he is talking more in terms of the formation of our identities in this context, it does raise questions as to his which he actually believes, though perhaps in both talking to Marty and the interrogating detectives, he does not feel the need to give an honest response either way. And instead, will tell them what they need to hear. Nonetheless, a bit later, their tracking down Childress & Sons due to Rust’s asking the former resident Ms Hill, about her husband, the “did he pay his taxes” question—with his ledger in hand—also serves as a nice remembrance to his original “tax man” nickname mentioned (and somewhat forgotten) throughout the rest of the series.

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Preparing to finally confront Childress, the two make their preparations in case of death. Rust once again employs the help of the sniper-wielding bar owner to send out their story to various outlets (One to FED, CID, the papers…), while Marty meets with Papania alone to ensure that he will take the call if they need it. Two short scenes that set-up payoffs for after the climax, while also helping to further escalate the tension before the ultimate confrontation.

On the car ride over, Rust’s comments nearing the Childress residence that his synesthesia is picking up elements of “aluminum…ash…I tasted it before” recall his earlier statements in Episode One, where he also experiences similar sensations following their stint in Erath after finding Dora Lange—serving as both a nice reminder to that earlier episode and further confirming that Childress is no doubt the killer of that woman whose death engendered so much of the shape of Rust’s life in its aftermath.

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Moreover, almost immediately upon arriving, the two are aware that they have found the place. Rust’s synesthesia kicks into high gear, with a spectacular sweeping camera motion of his absorbing the dreaded surroundings, and his ordering Marty to call Papania. While Marty comes up with an obviously fake story about his and Rust being property surveyors, Errol’s sister can instantly detect the truth. In a moment of almost meta-humor, Marty mentions that they “got lost like a couple of greenhorns”—perhaps a pun on the green ears used to track down Errol. Nonetheless, she begins spouting philosophical dialogue not unlike Errol or his housekeeper when answering: “Where is he …all around us, before you were born, and after you die”—again returning to the idea of eternal recurrence.

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Meanwhile, Rust has taken off for Errol within the dense property found in back of the estate. Gun drawn, he finds pictorial depictions of the black stars and all the other hallmarks of the Yellow King as he pursues Errol into the abandoned Fort in the rear of the property. There, walking within the catacombs, Rust wends his way amongst life-sized version of stick totems found amongst his victims in Episodes One and Two—along with the pieces of evidence left behind from the victims of the cult. As Errol taunts Rust with cryptic and menacing lines like: “You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man…You blessed, Reggie, DeWall—acolytes, witnesses to my journey…Lovers, I am not ashamed. Come die with me, little priest” he displays further signs of a man in full belief of his warped psychosis: a man as ready for this moment as Rust.

As the two men who have equally awaited this confrontation with one another over the decades finally near their clash, Errol’s echoing voice directs Rust throughout the catacombs (and calling to mind Miss Dolores’ description of Carcosa as a “wind of invisible voice” in Episode Seven) until Rust finally behold the Yellow King: a putrid stack of skulls and bones draped by yellow cloth. But then, Rust sees the void. Made possible through his synesthesia, Rust glimpses a swirling mass of blue/black clouds that serve as a portal into a netherworld of nothingness—the abyss—a suggestion of horror made even more unfathomable by its mere hinting than full reveal and calling to mind the best works of Lovecraft and other weird fiction writers.

Until Errol attacks—lifting Rust up with near Herculean strength and choking him to death. Luckily, Marty has managed to navigate the labyrinth of catacombs and shoots Rust free. Still, Errol subdues him, as well, until Rust finally seizes his moment—and blows off Errol’s head. As Rust lies gutted and dying to death, Marty sees the flare signaling the arrival of Papania/Gilbough: both men having saved his partner’s life in their own distinct way.

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Awaking in the hospital, it’s interesting to note that Marty’s last memory before going unconscious is “sayin’ my friend’s name”. Not two episodes ago, Marty still despised Rust for his affair with Maggie—not to mention their contentious relationship as co-workers a decade before—and he now not only thinks of him as a partner, but as a friend. And as Papania and Gilbough begin to rattle off the gruesome details of their findings in the Childress house (“There’s a group of guys—pedophiles and so forth, voodoo worship, man Cohle shot dead was the old man’s son…) all Marty can do is wave them away. In effect, he embodies the series’ motto this entire time: that the details of the crime aren’t important or worthy of valuable screen time—it’s the characters.

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This is further solidified by the arrival of Maggie and the girls seconds later. As Maggie grips her hand bearing a new wedding ring over Marty’s, and his two girls come to comfort him, Marty initially feigns being OK—upholding his image of traditional masculinity as best he is able—until finally breaking down and crying in front of his girls, muttering “I’m fine…I’m fine”. After years of attempting to shrug of his feelings and telling himself that he is OK, Marty crumbles in the midst of his family—the one thing he lost most over the years due to no one’s fault but his own.

Meanwhile, Rust remains in slow recovery after recovering from out his coma. He listens to news reports of the reveals of the Childress Mansion—repots which mention that Edwin Tuttle (the Governor) is distancing himself from any familial relation while dozens more victims continue to be exhumed from the property. Rust, however, can only lie paralyzed in his bed—awaiting whatever comes next with this chapter of his obsession finally closed.

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A bit later, when Marty wheelchairs in to check on him, Rust’s remains disillusioned as ever—repeating that he’s “not supposed to be here”—while further commiserating over the fact that there are still men connected to the cult out there yet to be caught (even remembering that he had already encountered Errol once before at the Light of the Way School). Marty counters that they caught “their guy” however—reinforcing a central theme at the heart of the case since the beginning: solving the case of Dora Lange. Though the two have encountered about every kind of evil imaginable throughout this case—corruption, torture, murder, narcotics, kidnapping—their job was to find Dora Lange’s murderer: and in that they were successful. This idea is given greater weight and description in the following—and final—scene.

In the hospital parking lot a few days later, Marty wheels out Rust for a talk in the fresh air. The two discuss their feelings in the wake of all that has happened. Specifically, Rust opens to Marty about his experience in the coma. Here, McConaughey delivers the best piece of acting in his career and the series, as he details a transcendental experience of feeling love with his daughter and father beyond the void of death that reduces him to unashamed tears. After eight hours of relentless nihilism and anti-natalist philosophy, Rust doesn’t exactly undergo a complete reversal of ideologies, but he is undeniably transformed by this otherworldly experience made possibly by the afterlife and those who loved him during his life.

Attempting to comfort him, Marty comments on the stars in the bright sky that call to mind Rust’s childhood in Alaska. Once again, Rust relates that the stars told stories to him as a lonely child—further cementing the idea of storytelling that lies at the heart of the series. Nonetheless, as Marty comments that the dark clearly holds far more territory than the light, Rust reconfigures the story of light versus dark as relates to their work in the fight against evil as a whole. In a glimpse of insight both surprising for the normally pessimistic Rust, yet also logical, Rust remarks: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning”.

As Marty remarked in more literal words to Rust in the hospital room, they accomplished their job—to catch Dora Lange’s killer. Though there will always be more crime than can be caught, more corruption than goodwill, more dark than light—they did their jobs. Despite being fired, mistrusted, working outside the legal limits of those around them, these two men stayed true to their word and paid their debt. As a series about stories and storytelling at its core—from the interviews, to the use of the King in Yellow mythology, to the stories we tell ourselves—this is the simplest story at the center of the show and of the nature of man explored throughout the series. As Rust describes it, “the oldest story”. A story beautifully told through these characters, and the crime at its ugly center, that composes the first season of True Detective.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode 7. “After You’ve Gone” Recap & Review

“After You’ve Gone”

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Sharing the beer promised at the conclusion of episode six, Marty and Rust engage in a very awkward reunion at a nearby bar. The two play a subtle game of verbal cat-and-mouse, lobbying occasional jabs at one another, until getting down to brass tacks. Rust has returned from eight years in Alaska to finish the job, and he needs Marty’s help. Though Marty is extremely reluctant to rejoin him, Rust insists that they have a debt to pay in solving this crime (not to mention Marty’s killing of Ledoux that robbed them of potentially crucial evidence). Though still not completely committed, Marty accompanies Rust to his storage locker to continue the discussion…

Arriving at the storage locker, Marty straps himself with a gun—perhaps still suspicious of Papania and Gilbough’s suspicions that Rust is the killer. Upon walking inside, however, Marty quickly comes to understand the truth: that Rust is as committed and obsessed as ever in finding the true killer. Clues, leads, and all forms of evidence adorn every corner of the small shed—a literal manifestation of the locked room that is Rust’s mind.

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While absorbing the unnerving display of evidence, Rust further updates Marty on his progress with the case. After following a trail of charges around the Tuttle Wellspring schools, he tracked down a former student/current transvestite—Johnny Joanie. During the interview, Joanie admits that the faculty would induce the children into a “ghost sleep”—where the students would think they would be asleep—but feel awake—and still be unable to move. He further explains that the men would have animal faces, so he felt it had to be a dream. Back in the shed, Rust explains how this cult responsible for the cirmes mixes traditions of courir de Mardi Gras, Santeria, and voudon in their strange rituals accosting women and children. Despite this barrage of evidence, Marty remains convinced…until Rust shows him the tape.

Rust obtained this videotape by robbing Tuttle’s Baton Rouge residence—putting to use his skills as a former B&E man—and also acquiring incriminating photos of a young girl whose eyes have been enshrouded by a cloth. Rust finally plays the videotape for Marty, where the cult leads a young girl into their ceremony. Marty screams and shouts in witnessing the off-screen crimes of pedophilia until Rust finally turns it off. When questioned whether he killed Billy Lee, Rust denies it—believing that it was other men who found out about the robbery and killed Billy Lee before he may be blackmailed. After witnessing the horrors, Marty tacitly agrees to reform their partnership to solve the case.

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He then visits Maggie at her new palatial home, where pictures of an older Audrey and Macie are similarly found. He questions her about the Papania/Gilbough interview, and the status of his daughters, and to which she demurs mostly passive answers in reference to Rust. Nonetheless, sharp as ever, she also asks Marty if after all these years gone by, he has only come to say goodbye before finishing whatever it is he has agreed to help Rust finish. Later, Maggie visits Rust at the bar, though he remains similarly reluctant to promise that harm will not come to Marty when finishing the task at hand.

Marty and Rust set up headquarters at the former’s new P.I. offices, where Rust semi-insultingly asks if they need to worry about a lot of people coming in and out, to which Marty hilariously responds: “What do you think, Rust?”. After redecorating the office with much of the evidence found in Rust’s storage unit, the two then bond over their time in the intervening years. A moving montage plays out depicting Marty’s now very lonely life—a failed Match.com relationship, dinners and movies alone—a life much more quiet and removed for the formerly social and motivated family man who instilled so much of his identity vis-a-vis his career. Rust describes a similarly quiet and removed lifestyle—his days filled with tending bar, drinking, and working in isolation. The two share a moment of bonding in equally regretting their career choices: Marty having wanted to be a baseball player or bull rider; Rust, a painter or historian.

The next day, Marty investigates the old police department to retrieve missing persons reports from their archives under the guise of writing a book.* The two are able to track down a Jimmy Ledoux—distant relative to Reggie—at his automotive repair shop. He confesses to know very little of that side of the family which his father described as “too white for white trash”, except confessing that they always shot him with disturbing looks. The reunited detectives are also able to track down a former Tuttle housekeeper—Miss Dolores. She reveals that Sam Tuttle had a number of illegitimate children, and after some prodding from Rust, believes that the scarred man was actually a Tuttle with the surname Childress. She’s then seized by a hypnotizing spell of sorts at the memory, as her voice and speech transforms at the mention of Carcosa.

*(And in a moment of apparent meta-humor, Marty’s fake book is titled “True Crime”—“the genre not the title”, he explains).

Afterward, Marty further tracks down the fact that the Marie Fontenot missing person report “filed in error” was made by Sheriff Ted Childress in ’95—his last name now causing obvious implications as to why it was made in error. Marty also realizes that their former colleague Steve Geraci was the Deputy reporting to Childress. Moreover, they find that Geraci now serves as Sheriff of Vermillion Parish. While Rust is ready to interrogate him with jumper cables, Marty attempts to first reach out to him for a game of golf.

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On the course, Marty tries to slyly wedge out information from his former colleague, but the man remains reticent to divulge more information about handling the report to Sheriff Childress. When saying goodbye, Marty can immediately spot that Geraci is lying and calls Rust to “ready those jumper cables”. On a boat not too soon after, Geraci and Marty are enjoying their morning of fishing and beers, when the latter again begins prodding for answers. Geraci finally decides that he has had enough and refuses to say anymore, until Rust finally reveals himself with a handgun—prepared to torture him for answers.

Meanwhile, Papania and Gilbough are found wandering the bayou backwoods in search of the Church described by Rust during his interview. Without any luck, they pull over to ask a man on a lawnmower for directions. The lawnmower man informs them that the Church burned down, and then directs them toward the freeway. The two detectives drive off before the latter has even finished his sentence. Nonetheless, the lawnmower man finally stands to reveal himself to be the same lawnmower man from Episode Three—now with his beard shaved to reveal scars across the bottom of his face.

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REVIEW

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With the interviews now gone, and the storyline now more or less rooted in the present, “After You’ve Gone” uses the reunion of the former partners within this penultimate episode to explore the lost history between Rust and Marty while rapidly advancing toward their finally uncovering the case of the Yellow King. Despite their checkered past, the two bond as only they know how—lobbying passive-aggressive insults at one another between important bits of information. Rust has been in Alaska for the past eight years, while Marty professes to have quit his drinking and become a better man. Though the two exchange insults toward one another’s physical appearances against the ravages of time, the two also seem share to share a tacit understanding of finally being led to this point—as though inevitably so. While Marty protests that he would ever help Rust again (“if you were drowning, I’d toss you a barbell”), Rust’s very simple and pointed explanation that Marty owes a debt is enough to convince him to visit Rust’s storage shed.

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Following Papania and Gilbough’s accusations that Rust may be the serial killer, Fukanaga uses the reveal of Rust’s shed to indulge in possibilities of these suspicions. Marty even withdraws a gun when entering the shed—only to stumble upon the truth of his former’s partner’s devolution over the years. The production design on this space is superb—giving the impression of a man obsessed by his job and now unhinged by social norms in a manner that seems so far removed from typical portrays of such psychology previously seen on film and television. Moreover, six previous hours of establishing this aspect of Rust’s character only help sell and lay the firm groundwork into the reveal of the shed as a space that serves as a physical embodiment of Rust’s mind–his “Locked Room” to borrow the title from Episode Three.

The intricacies of the shed help disguise the deluge of exposition that covers much of this scene recounting Rust’s retrieval of numerous, vital pieces of evidence. Rust’s breaking and entering into Tuttle’s Baton Rougere residence uses some interesting dissolves to heighten the intrigue of the moment along with his admittance that “I was aware that I might have lost my mind”. As the show has always done so well, despite the extremely dark nature of the story, the hinting as to the horror of what is on that videotape and Marty’s reaction of terror actually works so much better for allowing the viewer to imagine the crimes of these men—crimes so terrible that they compel Marty to work with Rust again despite their torrid past.

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But first, Marty must make peace with Maggie. Starting with pictures of Audrey and Macie now grown up: the former on psychiatric meds but also working as an artist; the latter teaching in Chicago for Americorps, Marty seems able to reconcile the fact that this job may end with his death. Maggie, similarly, suspects so, when she asks “Did you come to say goodbye?” And the two are able to share a peaceful goodbye of sorts, after all they’ve been though and accomplished.

Now working within Marty’s quiet P.I. office, the two former partners ask each other a bit more intimately about their lives. These sequences depicting the mens’ lonely lifestyles wrecked with regret and failure are poignant to the point of being heartbreaking. After a string of unsuccessful relationships—online or affairs—Marty has merely resigned to an existence of microwaveable dinners and John Wayne movies alone in his apartment. Rust, meanwhile, remains in a similarly depressing cycle—his entire life now resolved to either bartending, drinking, or obsessive over the case.

There’s an especially moving exchange between the two wherein they reminiscence how neither ever even wanted this career—only to find themselves decades down the line and more than competent at it. Prompting Rust’s line: “Be careful what you get good at”. Nonetheless, it’s also interesting which chosen profession either detective would have liked. Marty, of course, chose the two most traditionally masculine ideals possible: an athlete or a cowboy; while Rust, however, admits that he would have liked to be a painter or historian: “old scenes, new details”. This is interesting in light of the fact of his carrying around his “taxman” book, wherein he illustrates all the details of the scene to provide new context to what others may have missed—somewhat of an amalgamation of these alternatively desired careers.

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Marty return to the old office under the guise of writing a book offers what appears to be one of the show’s few moments of meta-humor with Marty insisting: “It’s the genre, not the title” before then investigating the numerous, archived case files. Meanwhile, the two are indeed able to find two key people that allow their progress into the case. The first is Jimmy Ledoux—a relative of Reggie and DeWall. Though embarrassed of Reggie’s name, the man nonetheless further reiterates his abhorrence toward the “Man with the Scars” that seems to unnerve everyone.

It is their second find, however, Miss Dolores—a former Tuttle housekeeper—that provides their most important lead yet. Despite their false excuse for being there, they are able to confirm their suspicions that the man with the scarred face is an illegitimate child of Sam Tuttle—one with the surname of Childress. Her sudden, startled turn and extreme change voice errs dangerously close to hammy, and it’s the one moment of the series that seems to lean on the supernatural unnecessarily and jarringly. Still, her statements that Carcosa is “a wind of invisible voice” holds some resonance for what happens in the finale—wherein the detectives hear Errol’s voice taunting them from within “Carcosa”.

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Afterward, sharing another late-night drink, the two probe deeper into the devolution of their lives. Rust (as he has always been so capable of when eliciting confessions) asks Marty again why he quit the force, and Marty finally relents in explaining. After a meth raid, wherein the criminal attempted to microwave a baby, he decided to call it quits—never wanting to see something like that again. The scene is shot with a sense of foreboding dread within those few seconds that—like with the videotape—is never marred by flooding the viewer with the dreaded imagery. Again, it’s the look on Marty’s face—keeping the corpse out of focus—that makes the visual all the more powerful. And afterward, Rust’s actual confession as to why he had to return from Louisiana to finish the job turns out to be a more sorrowful reason than even Marty’s. As Rust explains: “This [was] something I had to see to—before getting’ on with something else…My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation…I’m ready to tie it off”. The idea that Rust is ready to commit suicide after finishing the task at hand is at once both heartbreaking and a perfect set-up for his fate within the finale.

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And finally, the man with the scarred face—almost comically revealed through the arrogance of Papania and Gilbough—at last arrives within this penultimate episode. Accompanied by eerie toybox music, bathed in the golden light of a dying sunset, Errol Childress is revealed to be the lawnmower man that Rust first met in Episode Three outside the Light of the Way Academy. Removing the who-done-it at this point in time turns out to be an incredibly wise move on the part of Pizzolatto, for as the series has done excellently throughout, it both eschews traditional expectations of the crime genre in television and allows a stronger focus on character.

Characters whose fates will all finally converge in the next and final episode.

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Album Review: Uncle Acid’s Mind Control

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Unlike almost every other musical genre, one of metal’s biggest strengths has always lied in its distinct ability to conjure up creative, atmospheric realms that invite the listener into a specific world constructed by the artist. Doom metal, even more so than other metal subgenres, relishes this opportunity to create an oppressive, heavy atmosphere that filters the familiar instruments of rock music through the prism of distorted vocals, lyrics, and supporting instruments that open a portal into fictitious sonic worlds. And it is within this specific aspect, that Uncle Acid & the deadbeats separate themselves from their doom peers with an incredibly innovative and distinct approach to the genre as heard on their album Mind Control.

Taking their cues from a mix of Black Sabbath and a nightmare-version of the Beatles, Uncle Acid meld their riffs into atmospheric productions that are reminiscent of the former bands, but also add a very familiar sense of melody. Melodies that if isolated may sound like some undiscovered gem from the Beatles, yet when strained through the creative machinations of Uncle Acid—produce a haunting and unique tone that so eerily reminds the viewer of some digestible pop-rock song, yet also calls to mind an unearthly quality only recognizable in doom.

Mind Control’s basic album concept revolves around a Charlie Manson-like figure that descends from the mountain with song titles and lyrics that evoke the major motifs of the period, such as: “Valley of the Dolls”, “Follow the Leader”, “Desert Ceremony”, “Death Valley Blues”, and “Devil’s Work”. The album oscillates between heavy, thumping riffs like in “Devil’s Work” and the slower, sixties-infused feelings of a song like “Follow the Leader”. Although a song like “Devil’s work” utilizes a heavy riff that will satisfy metal heads looking for a more propulsive charge, songs like “Follow the Leader” offer a more interesting contribution the genre. “Follow the Leader” and “Death Valley Blues” both sound like the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” strained through an acid trip led by Charles Manson to his Followers in their final days on Spahn Ranch, but without ever calling unnecessary attention to any of such recognizable elements. Instead, eerie tunes somehow both nostalgic and otherworldly wash over the listener’s ears to create a very creative and transportative effect to both the sound and world constructed within this concept album—as only found in the best of doom.