Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Matatabi

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

by Ken Eisler

I felt a funny kind of letdown when The Wanderers ended, and it took me awhile to figure out why. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the ending. After a fight, the film’s young protagonist Genta slips and tumbles down a long steep bank: a fall that begins comically but becomes by turns frightening because of an accelerating sense of the loss of control, and then, like Marie Dubois’ long snowy death fall in Shoot the Piano Player, strangely lyrical. Finally, with a thud, Genta’s head hits a rock: freezeframe, full stop. Up above, Genta’s pal Mokutaro slows down, turns around, and walks back along the road to the spot where he took off running, one arm bloodily slashed, the snarling, shouting, sword-wielding Genta in hot pursuit. Mokutaro looks around for his friend; calls his name repeatedly; shrugs. “Well,” he says aloud, “he must be taking a shit somewhere,” and the camera starts backing away from him, last of the three hapless young wanderers, alone in a wide screen landscape.

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Posted in: Film Reviews

Review: The Wanderers

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

One of the most affecting moments in Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the swamping of the soundtrack with an amplified-bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace” as the remaining human searched the night world for a means of escape. The cargo ship whose radio is the source of the music turns out to be loading up with pods, and as the hero sees this and the door is shut on his hopes of a getaway, the radio dial is turned from “Grace” to a newscaster’s flat voice. This scene is dramatically different from the counterpart sequence in Don Siegel’s original Body Snatchers: there the hero heard some Spanish singing, had his hopes raised that he was among feeling humans again, excitedly climbed over a hill to meet them—and discovered simultaneously that these are pod people and that that’s only a radio, not a woman singing, as the station is abruptly changed. The difference between the two versions is that Kaufman does not pretend that the music is anything but artificial, while Siegel surehandedly goes after the shock we feel when the station is switched; Kaufman seems interested in the mythic proportions of the music itself (the lyrics of the hymn, not sung but surely known by 75 percent of the audience, comment suggestively on the organized, sheeplike groups of pods: “I once was lost, but now I’m found—was blind, but now I see”), especially as they are set against the tiny visual representation of the hero. All of which finally comes around to the observation that this guy Kaufman can put music and images together real well, and that his latest film, The Wanderers, displays this talent for much of its running time.

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