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November 27, 2005

Shatter and Spun

Michael Carreras (and Monte Hellman, uncredited) - 1974
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

Jonas Akerlund - 2002
Columbia Region 1 DVD

These two films don't really compliment each other in terms shared stories, stars, genre or any of the usual criteria that I would normally use to link films. What is interesting to me is that these films present arguments both for and against directors commentaries. Sometimes the commentary can be informative. Conversely I will sometimes let the movie "speak for itself" as it were. In the case of Shatter, I went straight to the commentary track, while with Spun, just watching the film seemed to be the wisest course.

In part of the Shatter commentary, Monte Hellman discusses the film he was previously planning to make in Hong Kong, an adaptation of Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Maison de Rendez-Vous, ideally with previous collaborator, Jack Nicholson. I don't remember exactly how it happened, as this was over thirty years ago, but as a result of my writing to Hellman, he called me up at New York University to set up a conversation between him and Robbe-Grillet, who was teaching at NYU at the time. As Hellman recounts in his commentary, financing on the proposed film fell through twice. Shatter mark the shift in Hellman's career from promising auteur to obscure journeyman.

The commentary is also interesting in explaining not only Hellman's problems as a director for hire on this film, but also why the teaming of Hammer Productions with Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers didn't work. While Hammer's reputation is mainly with their horror movies, they began with crime dramas. On paper, the idea of making a movie about a hitman in Hong Kong, with scenes involving the newly popular kung-fu genre, must have seemed like a good way for merge the respective studios' talents. As it turned out, this film and the marginally more successful Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, marked the beginning and the end of this merger. Hellman's biggest problem was working with a crew that had to be shared with other Shaw Brothers productions, causing Hellman to be constantly behind on his shooting schedule. The working conditions for the Shaw Brothers cast and crew are documented elsewhere, but essentially amounted to indentured servitude for much of the staff. Hellman also had frequent clashes with producer Michael Carreras concerning what was felt to be an underwritten script. As it turned out, Hellman's three weeks of footage was stretched to create possibly as much as three quarters of Shatter. Carreras ended up spending six months shooting the other footage used fulfill feature length requirements. In the commentary, Hellman also mentions his several connections with Sam Peckinpah, including information that was new to me: Hellman turned down the offer to shoot Junior Bonner which turned out to be Peckinpah's warmest film, and Hellman had originally developed Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid which Peckinpah rescued from the shelf, only to have his own problems making the film his way. Even with Hellman identifying his own work, Shatter has no resemblance either in story or style to his previous films, although his composition and lighting are generally better than the work of Carreras.

The Shatter DVD includes an overview of Hammer crime thrillers made in 1990. Oliver Reed narrated this piece. While Reed can now be seen in DVD releases of Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures and Paranoiac, the best of the Hammer films, Joseph Losey's The Damned is only available on tape.

I saw Spun on DVD after a couple of attempts to watch it cable. The DVD is unrated which meant that certain images were not digitally altered and the characters spoke more freely. I think the film was meant to either a "stoner" comedy or a lesson explaining that lots of drugs plus a lack of sleep are not good for you. While Jonas Akerlund has a good eye, developed from several years of making music videos, I would like to see him use his talents on something of greater substance. What I did like about Spun was the attention to details, although some could argue that there may have been too much attention, such as the exteme close-ups of Mena Suvari's rotting teeth. The animated images that were digitally blurred make much more sense being seen uncensored, used as they were to convey extreme sexual fantasies of one of the characters. Without getting graphic myself, one can describe the images as being similar to what one might find in the most adult Japanese manga. While the DVD for Spun also comes with a director's commentary, I found myself having no patience for Akerlund's long pauses in discussing the film. In this case, even with what little it had to say, the film proves to be more eloquent than the filmmaker.

Posted by peter at November 27, 2005 07:26 PM