The Duellists – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 45: The Duellists

Duellistsposter

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

It was Tim’s choice and we watched Wild Bill. It was another disappointing Western biopic. Watch the first season of Deadwood instead and be a lot, lot happier.

The Shortlist

Despite my lack of enjoyment of Wild Bill, it had a stonking cast who’re in an awful lot of stuff I either should have seen or want to see. Narrowing it down to just five was heartbreaking enough.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Whilst Walter Hill isn’t in my good books for directing Wild Bill, this looks plucky and was made a lot closer to the brilliant The Warriors.

The Contender (2000)

I was less sure about this one than some of the others, but while trying to narrow the list down I watched a trailer, and it suddenly rocketed up the rankings. Gary Oldman looks brilliant in it, add Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliot and Jeff Bridges to the mix and it’s a goddamn party.

Silent Running (1972)

Mark Kermode bangs on about this a lot in his film reviews and blogs, so it seems like a bit of an oversight that I’ve not seen it. 70s sci fi, Bruce Dern, cute little robots, what’s not to like?

Nashville (1975)

This is a Robert Altman film, and having already covered M*A*S*H and The Player in the CRFC, both of which are excellent, it seems like a sensible choice.

The Duellists (1977)

Ridley Scott’s first film, and the one he made directly before Alien. Another one where I was intrigued by the premise, but hooked by the trailer. So hooked, in fact, that it gazumped Silent Running and became my choice.

The Link

Buffalo Bill

Keith Carradine as Buffalo Bill

Keith Carradine played Buffalo Bill in Wild Bill and he’s one of the two leads in The Duellists. He’s someone who has sort of come out of the blue in the last decade or so for me – in the likes of Dexter, Deadwood (playing Wild Bill this time) and the Fargo TV series. I’ve been more aware of his brother, David, from Kill Bill and Deathrace 2000 so it was a nice surprise to go through Keith’s filmography and find loads of tempting stuff spanning multiple decades. I imagine we’ll get back to more of it soon.

The Duellists and me

I hadn’t heard of it at all, but the premise is great – two soldiers in Napoleon’s army have a disagreement and fight a series of duels over the next 16 years. Ridley Scott isn’t a man who can do no wrong, but there is absolutely no arguing with Alien’s brilliance. None. And this is the film that he made in the build up to it, so close to the peak of his powers, some might say. I have hopes…

IMDB says

A small feud between two Napoleonic officers evolves into a decades-long series of duels. 7.5 stars.

I says

duellists

They’re not highwaymen, but they are definitely dandy.

My hopes were well-founded.

Lovely long shots of misty fields with duel combatants warming up while cows and sheep look on? Tick.

Period-accurate clothes, haircuts and fighting styles (apparently – it’s certainly the only excuse for the haircuts)? Tick.

Pete Postlethwaite playing a barber with no lines? Tick.

Keith Carradine duellists

It’s a strong look.

Here’s an interesting thing, though. The film is about two Frenchmen in Napoleon’s army. Pretty much all the characters are French. Almost all the actors are English, and using English accents. So far so consistent. The two leads, Keith Carradine as the calm, sensible d’Hubert and Harvey Keitel’s permanently furious Feraud, have American accents. That’s liveable withable. Every now and then D’Hubert shouts ‘La’, though. As in ‘There’, but in French. It’s a puzzling choice, but not exactly the end of the world.

Harvey Keitel The Duellists

Bursts of sudden violence? Feraud’s yer man.

The sword duels are wonderfully choreographed, with bursts of sudden violence, sudden politeness and long moments of weighing up moves. It reminded me of the wonderful duel in Zatoichi. Then there’s a mounted duel and hide-and-seek pistol duel too just in case sword aren’t exciting enough.

The whole thing is a brilliant study in the rules of honour, and how bloody ridiculous they are/were. It’s based on a Joseph Conrad book, which in turn was based on reality. The names have been changed though – take note Wild Bill (I’m still bitter about that). In the film there are five or six duels. In reality there were around 30. And neither of them died. They were either incredibly equally matched duellists, or awful.

The Verdict

One of my favourites of our film club so far. That Ridley Scott is one to watch – you heard it here first.

Coming Attractions

Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are in a fair old bit between them, but the supporting cast is chock full of notable British thesps like Edward Fox and Alun Armstrong. It’s going to be Tim’s choice and I think I’ve destroyed him with options once more!

@BornToPootle

Scary Games Vs Scary Films

Scaredface

Such scare. So fear.

I’m a big horror fan.

That’s a meaningless statement really. You might reasonably think that I have seen all the Saw films, beaten a path to anything Wes Craven and have a stack of Stephen King novels on the bookshelves. Only one of those is actually the case (King – what a writer!).

Instead, I went through the obligatory video nasty phase as a teenager/early 20-something, got caught up on Japanese and Korean horror films and have fallen in love with more recent(ish) efforts like Kill List and The Babadook. The horror genre is a varied thing, with much to offer. Including games.

I’ve tried my hand at a couple of horror games of late, and I’m not sure what to think. Not because I didn’t find them scary. Quite the opposite, actually. Possibly they’re too scary. Or is it something else?

The only film I have ever left because I was too scared was Return To Oz. I was 4. Jesus, that scared me. I finally watched the whole thing just a couple of years ago, and was pleased to find that it’s still creepy as all hell. But since then, I’ve never left a horror film unfinished, be it Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead (though I should have left part way through the turgid remake) or A Tale Of Two Sisters. But the two games I’ve played recently? I don’t think I can finish them.

Which games am I actually talking about? Alien Isolation and Soma. Both sci-fi horror, both high production values, both really high on my must-play list last year. And I really like both of them, to a point.

Warning – there are some spoilers ahead, more for Alien Isolation as I really haven’t got that far in Soma

Alien Isolation looks great. It sounds great. And for a long time it’s a fun horror experience. Being stalked through a (sort of) empty space station by a seldom-glimpsed iconic monster is a real thrill. It’s pretty much exactly what I hoped for, even if a lot of my playing time was spent looking out from cupboards.

AlienIsolation

Cupboard simulator 2014

But, as in the film Alien, there are androids. Not one bumbling-then-oh-shit-he’s-evil android, but a whole load of them. And the hero, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, starts to pick up a few weapons to deal with them. Never much ammo though. And that’s when things started to go downhill.

The alien isn’t killable. Not with the weapons, at least. You can drive it off with a flamethrower, but it’ll keep coming back. Fine. The androids though, them you can kill. It takes a bit of off effort, but they go down eventually. And so the grind began. Sometimes I killed the androids, sometimes they killed me. And suddenly all sense of fear has gone, replaced with something different: stress.

By the time I’d stop-started and died-killed my way through a room full of androids and dropped down into an alien hive I felt exasperated rather than exhilarated. And now here’s something new – killable little facehuggers. And the grind continues. I’d trade all my weapons for a good cupboard to hide in…

So far in Soma it’s a similar-ish experience to early Alien: Isolation. No weapons whatsoever and unknowable beasties patrolling desolate corridors. I’m in. I’m hooked. And then suddenly I’m more stressed than scared and the illusion gently crumbles. My character is perhaps forever stuck hiding around a corner as a monster traipses back and forth ahead. My character isn’t too scared to move, he just can’t be bothered. He’ll stay listening to the creepy sound effects and having a good time that way.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s something about being able to die and retry that spoils horror games for me. In a film you’re stuck. It’s going to carry on no matter how scared you get, it has a momentum that you can’t stop.

The last chunk of Kill List for example, down in the tunnels in the dark, disoriented and being chased by people neither the audience or main characters quite understand, is thrilling. What about Pulse? There’s a ghost woman walking in ghastly slow motion towards the main character, stumbling in slow-mo. It’s weird and horrible and unnerving as holy hell. But what if the character bungled their escape, and instead of the film ending they had to try it again. And again. And again. The fear would dissipate. It would become stressful. Then annoying.

There are alternatives though. Bioshock managed its horrors brilliantly – there are moments of the first game that I remember as clearly as any great film scare. It’s certainly more action-centric than Alien or Soma, so a slightly different vibe I suppose. I enjoyed Until Dawn recently – the idea that there was no do-over, no reloading if a character dies worked well, adding to in-the-moment tension without becoming merely stressful.

So what horror games can you recommend that don’t trade fear for stress? Layers of Fear looks intriguing…

Maybe I should just get better at games. That’s probably the best answer.

@BornToPootle