Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In short: .357 Magnum (1977)

American Jonathan "Johnny" Hightower (James Whitworth) works as a contract secret agent for some British-accented guy with the most frightening hair I have ever seen. The hair monster wants Johnny to kill another guy called Clay. Clay is in ChinatownHong Kong and then moves on to ChinatownTokyo. He walks a lot, has vague phone conversations but also shoots a few people.

Johnny thinks he's going to need help for this one, so he seeks out an alcoholic gunman named Steven he is friends with. Steve likes to talk in close-ups that hide his mouth. They shoot, they philosophize, then they shoot some more. They visit the OK corral so that Steven can philosophize some more. All the while, Clay has been walking and working his phone.

When it's time for our heroes to spring into action, it's also time for a Priscilla Alden cameo. And betrayal! And a five minute scene of a woman licking a vibrator! Then vengeance!

If you haven't entered the peculiar world of directing force of un-nature Nick Millard until now, .357 Magnum would probably be too exhausting a place to start. I'd recommend Criminally Insane as a less disturbing starting point.

If, on the other hand, you already have made contact with Millard's work, you will recognize his style at once. The unmoving (possibly unmovable) camera, the a-rhythmic and illogical editing, Millard's weird talent for making even those scenes in which all contributing actors are present at the same time look as if they aren't, the rough sound and the nearly perverse use of library music.

Everyone on screen is stiffly staring into the direction of the camera, muttering dialogue with all the conviction and emotion of someone who has been dead inside for years. I still hope there's a zombie film hidden away somewhere in the director's back catalogue. That would truly be a match made in the special heaven that's reserved for all things improbably painful and beautiful.

The movie's plot barely makes sense (and what sense there is nearly completely destroyed by its confused storytelling), and yet it's presented with an utterly weird weight of conviction, as if Millard, in making films most people wouldn't even call films, had found a source of disquieting earnestness that leads his films as far away from the fun playing around of other no-budget productions of this kind as it can be lead. Millard seems to follow his own internal logic, a logic that might be incomprehensible for anyone not Millard, but which is logic nonetheless. Even the scene - coming right before the so-called finale to rob that of any possible excitement that might have built up for it in a viewer - of the guy with the hair (wasn't he in Millard's Satan's Black Wedding?) watching the woman licking her vibrator feels as if it would make sense to someone able to look into Millard's head.

And what an interesting place to live in that head must be.


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