Tag Archives: Francis Ford Coppola

The Rain People (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Needing to find herself.

Natalie (Shirley Knight) wakes up one day and decides to simply get in her car and drive off with no particular destination in mind. She has just found out that she is pregnant and not sure if she can or wants to handle the responsibilities that come with it. She leaves a note to her husband (Robert Modica) telling him she needs time away from him to think things through. During her travels she meets Jimmy (James Caan), otherwise known as ‘Killer’, he was a former football player straddled with a brain injury that has now left him mentally handicapped. She also meets Gordon (Robert Duvall) a traffic cop who pulls her over for a speeding ticket. The two eventually start to date, but the more Natalie tries to find herself the more lost she becomes.

The film was for the most part considered an ‘experimental’ one as the subject matter was years ahead of its time. While many road pictures of the day like Easy Rider took the male perspective this one dared to tap into the feminist viewpoint, which up to that point hadn’t been explored as much if at all. I enjoyed how the film questions the whole wife/mother idea, once considered ‘the ultimate destination’ for any woman, but here brings out the complex issues that come with it and how not every woman may want to be trapped by it, or even find contentment in that situation.

What’s even more interesting is that Natalie never really seems to go anywhere. Yes, she does get in a car and starts driving and passes by many picturesque places of rural America along the way, but trying to escape the clutches that she feels holds her back never goes away. Everyone she meets, including Gordon who’s stuck raising a young daughter (Marya Zimmet) that he wasn’t totally prepared for, seem to be in the same predicament as her making it feel like the further she drives away the closer she gets to where she started.

Francis Ford Coppola makes wonderful use of the rain and there are many shots of it particularly in the first half as we see it creating puddles on the road and even streaming down the car windows in close-up. The cloudy, murky weather acted as a nice motif to Natalie’s inner emotional state and the confusion that she was going through. The film’s promotional poster seen above is excellent too and brings out the moodiness of the movie with one perfect shot although seeing the couple kissing in the backdrop is a bit misleading as that’s one thing you definitely don’t see here despite Natalie’s efforts to try and find it. The two people should’ve, in order to be consistent with the theme of the film it was promoting, been seen standing side-by-side instead of hugging.

I also really loved Coppola’s use of flashbacks here, which gets sprinkled in throughout. I liked the scenes showing the couple in happier times during their wedding as it illustrates how relationships that go bad or don’t work out still had their good moments even if they were brief. The flashbacks dealing with Duvall trying to save his family from a burning house are quite revealing too as what he describes verbally through voice-over is quite different from what we see.

Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, called the script ‘weak’, which I completely disagree with. Yes, not a lot happens, the random situations that Natalie goes through perfectly reflect what could happen to anyone on a trip, which I liked because the plausibility here is never compromised. She ends her journey feeling as lost as she did when she started, but I felt that was the whole point, so in my opinion the script is strong.

George Lucas, who worked as an aide on this production, filmed a 32-minute documentary of this movie as it was being made called Filmmaker, which is accessible on YouTube although the sound quality is poor. This film has several revealing moments including conflicts that director Coppola had with Knight, but what I found most interesting is that when the crew traveled down to Chattanooga they all cut their hair and shaved their beards,which included Coppola himself, as they felt the locales wouldn’t work with them unless they appeared clean-cut. Seeing Coppola with a rare non-beard look alone makes this short film vignette worth catching.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

THX 1138 (1971)

thx-1138

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex is not allowed.

THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is member of a futuristic, work camp-like society where everyone has shaved heads, forced to take drugs to control their emotions and avoid having sex, which is forbidden. His days are spent on the production line where he helps build police androids and at night he goes home to an apartment where he rooms with LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). She is unhappy with her situation and stops taking the required drugs while replacing THX’s with placebos. The two begin a sexual affair and are promptly arrested. THX is thrown into a modernistic prison that has no walls or bars and he eventually decides to attempt a daring escape with the help of SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) and a hologram known as SRT 9 (Don Pedro Colley).

This story is an extension to the student film that director George Lucas made while attending the University of California film school. That film was a 15 minute short entitled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which dealt with a man trying to escape from a futuristic world while being chased and monitored by government run computers. It won first place in the 1968 National Student Film Festival and was good enough to gain the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who offered to produce a feature film dealing with the same basic premise, but having more of a background to the character and his reason for escaping.

Reportedly Lucas considers this to be his favorite project and despite the fact that it did not do well at the box office I consider it to be his best stuff as well. The visuals are imaginative and striking and make you feel like you are entering a whole new world unlike any that had ever been created before. I especially liked the prison scenes where the characters are surrounded by nothing but an unending white as well as THX’s medical examination done exclusively by robotic arms. Having the characters framed towards the side of the screen instead of the center while action occurs just out of view helps accentuate the off-kilter vibe and was year’s ahead-of-its-time.

Even though there is very little dialogue or music the sound becomes an integral part of the film by relying on comments made by the androids who tell the people in a HAL-like tone to ‘stay calm’ as well as the state sanctioned god known as OHM who routinely advises his followers ‘to be happy’. The best part though comes when two techs have a casual a conversation while viewing through monitors the torture of THX.

The film is visually groundbreaking and one of the greatest directorial debuts of any director living or dead, but it still comes with a few caveats. One is the fact that the plot relies too heavily on the stereotypical Orwellian view of the future where everything is worse than it is today and people no longer have any individual rights. Yet technology has proven to make life increasingly easier for people and with more freedoms and options, so why would everything suddenly revert the other way? Maybe they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust and this society was humankind’s way of ‘starting over’, but that’s never made clear and it would’ve been nice to at least get a glimpse of the person, or people who were behind-the-scenes with the ultimate authority as well as some sort of backstory.

There is also the fact that everyone in this society needs to be working, but jobs today are increasingly being lost to automation every year and that trend will continue. Certain nations like Finland are already experimenting with paying their citizens a basic salary because there are more people than jobs available.  Citizens of future societies are predicted to have more free time than ever before, so why doesn’t the world in this film follow suit? If this society can build android cops why can’t they also build robots to do the all the other jobs too, which would then allow the humans to have more of an idyllic existence than a workaholic one?

I also wasn’t too crazy about the 2004 digital restoration, which added new special effects and footage. I last saw this film in 2001 and could tell right away that this version had been tampered with. I realize that Lucas has been known to do this with his Star Wars films, but to me it’s as bad as colorization. Why mess with something that is already good? The added computer effects does not ‘enhance’ anything, but instead desecrates the original vision and treats it like it were a video game than a movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Lucas

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube