The Day Of The Jackal – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 46: Day Of The Jackal

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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…

Last time we watched The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s debut film. It’s one of the best we’ve watched so far.

The Shortlist

There was no shortlist this time round. Just a very very long list. Tim struggled so much to narrow it down that he simply didn’t. Here’s what we were considering:

ShortlistShortlist 2Shortlist 3

Yeah. A fair old bit. Fortunately this was a rare case where Tim had strong hankerings for one film in particular, and so the die was cast – he picked The Day of the Jackal.

The Link

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Edward Fox in The Duellists

This time Edward Fox is up. Kind of like Keith Carradine last time, the Venn diagram of films he’s been in and films I’ve seen don’t really overlap. But so many of them either sound interesting or are classics I really should have seen that I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this particular Mr. Fox.

The Day of the Jackal and me

I’ve worked out that it’s unrelated to Carlos the Jackal. I know it involves a hitman. I’m also sure it doesn’t star Bruce Willis sporting a silly moustache.

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Dear god, look at that thing

That’s about it. It’s one of those films that I’ve heard of (and probably nodded sagely when it’s come up in conversation to hide my ignorance) but never seen.

IMDB says

A professional assassin codenamed “Jackal” plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. 7.8 stars.

I says

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The gentleman hitman…

The older I get, the more I realise that all that you really need to make a film, book, play, whatever, compelling is someone overcoming obstacles. The beauty of DOTJ is that it shows us two parallel stories – the hitman and the police. They are each trying to overcome the obstacles that they keep putting in each other’s path. That’s about it. There’s not much in the way of personal backstory – in fact the Jackal himself has no personal investment in the matter at hand other than money and professional pride. It’s amazing how enthralling it is, and an object lesson in less is more.

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… and the down-at-heel cop. It’s a classic combination

My grasp of French history is good enough to know that Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated, and I wasn’t expecting some kind of Inglourious Basterds-esque rewriting of history. Again, because of the simplicity of the setup that’s irrelevant. The moment-to-moment working to overcome obstacles is enough to keep engaged and on the edge of the seat.

Watching it in 2017 one of the things that most struck me was the speed of information. It moved so slowly. Sooooo slowly. At one point police went around the area they thought the Jackal might be staying in and gathered guest information from all the hotels. Then first thing in the morning it was sifted through for likely suspects. One was identified and the police swooped in. Of course this all took hours and hours so he was long gone. These days a few clicks in a database and the jig would be up. I wonder if we’re going to see an increase of things set in period because it’s easier to create obstacles – kind of like how mobile phones never work in horror films; they make escape too easy.

And, on a side note, Edward Fox sports an excellent array of cravats.

The Verdict

A brilliant setup that’s gripping in a way that it feels like we’ve somehow lost track of how to achieve in the intervening decades. Stone. Cold. Classic.

Coming Attractions

This may have been The Day of the Jackal, but we might try and have The Month of the Fox – Edward Fox had quite a few tempting films so I’m probably going to limit myself to his filmography for the next choice.

@BornToPootle

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The Punchdrunk of Videogames

Hitman Theatre

On the debut episode of the new podcast I’m co-hosting (plug plug plug) I briefly touched on how the game Hitman reminds me of immersive theatre legends Punchdrunk. I’d actually written an article about the subject a few weeks beforehand and forgotten to publish it! Have a read below, and if you haven’t played Hitman or seen it in action, have a quick look at my attempt at a one-try, limited time mission, then read on:

I had the great pleasure of seeing Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man a couple of times when it was on in London. It was a revelation – truly immersive theatre. A building had been stuffed with interesting, weird, David Lynchian things going on for me (and a lot of other people) to explore as we fancied.

The first time I went, I entered through the main space, masked and anonymous of course, then found a door and started exploring. Within minutes I was lost in labyrinthine corridors, hearing snatches of conversation that piqued my interest but didn’t quite deter me from my wanderings. Then I happened upon a red-draped room with a black and white tiled floor. Some kind of party was going on. Music started to play and the whole party segued into a strange, lurching, leering dance routine. I was hooked.

When I returned for a second visit, I knew the lay of the land. I followed specific conversations at specific times. I came to understand at least some of what was going on. I knew that if I reached the feuding couple at the right time, I’d be able to witness their fight through the medium of dance. Downstairs in the orgiastic party I would see the temptations being thrust at the ‘hero’ of the piece. It all connected, but I had to pick and choose. It wasn’t possible to take it all in, to explore every option.

I’ve just experienced something very similar in a videogame. There’s a case to be made that Punchdrunk has many similarities with games anyway, from the themes of exploration and the player/visitor’s own agency within the world to the creation of a fully realised location that you can inspect from every angle. Some of the (dare I say it?) Walking Simulator games give a similar feel. Wandering around Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, tugging at threads and seeing where they lead is definitely close. But one game has come even closer to replicating that experience: Hitman.

I hadn’t played a Hitman game until a few weeks ago. I’m not really a stealth afficianado so always put the series in the ‘not my kind of thing’ category. Then, after seeing  ‘let’s play’ videos and hearing endless praise on the Idle Thumbs podcast, I decided to take the plunge and try the latest in the series for myself.

And it’s brilliant in so many ways. Unlike Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and its ilk, Hitman presents a busy, bustling alive world. That’s not a criticism of EGTTR, by the way – that game specifically presents a beautiful, heartbreaking loneliness. Rather, it’s what brings Hitman closer to Punchdrunk’s theatrical exploits.

Stroll into the Paris fashion show in the opening episode and you’re an inscrutable, blank-faced guest – much like the masks Punchdrunk guests wear. Over the buzz of conversation you might hear an interesting titbit, an argument perhaps, or furtive whispers. So you follow where the voices lead, through grand corridors and off-limits backstage areas. You see the glamour and how the glamour is created.

Of course you’re not allowed in all areas, so you must track down disguises, further anonymous masks, to avoid raising eyebrows and drawing attention. This show isn’t about you after all. This show stars Novikov and Margolis, you’re simply an anonymous onlooker tugging threads, following stories.

Live, immersive theatre has its perils. What if a member of the public dashes through the middle of a scene? It’s the same in Hitman – you can blend in perfectly, behaving just like whatever mask you’re wearing should behave before sneaking away unseen, or you can run through the middle of a crowd disrupting for just a moment the illusion of a living world. In theatre the show must go on, and so too in Hitman.

The big difference is that in Hitman you’re not there as an observer and occasional minor participant. The closest I came to being personally involved in the story at The Drowned Man was being taken to one side by a performer, led by the hand down a secret passageway and having a one-on-one interaction while my fellow visitors wondered why I’d been singled out. In Hitman, you’re there with a purpose. It’s not look-but-don’t-touch; it’s look-then-touch-swiftly-and-viciously. The show will go on if you do nothing, but you’re there expressly to stop the show. To disrupt the perfect theatrical evening. Agent 47 is a heckler. A troll.

Returning to being singled out at The Drowned Man, that came about because I knew it was coming. It was on my second visit, so I knew someone was going to get picked and inveigled my way to be in the right place at the right time. Just like how I now know how to find the Sheik at the Paris fashion show and be in the right place at the right time to infiltrate the auction of secrets. Done well, immersive theatre has immense re-visit value. That’s something games have known for a long time and brings particular depth to Hitman.

Hitman may not (so far, at any rate – we’re only a few episodes in) have the Lynchian weirdness that Punchdrunk conjured up, but I can return to it again and again, finding new secrets, different pathways and strange characters every time. And where Punchdrunk’s storytelling revolved around visceral bursts of dance, Hitman relies on swift flares of violence before a sheen of normality, however fabricated, descends again.

Films and videogames are often compared, and of course one is often remade as another (seldom well *koff* Hitman *koff*). But perhaps we’re missing a trick. What if theatre and games are closer siblings than film and games? What experiences could that lead to? It’s surely no coincidence that Hitman’s marketing revolved around an interactive theatrical experience.

So what theatrical tie-ins should we expect? And which plays are begging out for the game treatment? Why is it that games seem to be the one medium Shakespeare hasn’t yet breached? Maybe Assassin’s Creed: Dunsinane will be the next instalment in that series. Or how about Hitman: Verona?

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