Monday, August 30, 2004

the fugitive (2)

sorry for the mild break in transmission. weekends are harrowing & unproductive. though i did read, in saturday's 'age' (at least i think it was in the age), a review which lauded a critic for inspiring readers/viewers to see/read what the aforesaid critic was reviewing. ah yes, i remember now - twas an owen richardson review of barbara creed's recently released introduction to film theory text. something of a pertinent book, one might say, though i can't see myself reading it anytime soon.

it's a good critical quality i reckon - contagious critical enthusiasm. i recall back in year 10 or thereabouts after a ludicrously overlong 'class presentation' on kubrick, the english teacher told me about a week later that i'd 'inspired' her to go see kubrick's films again (something which is vital if you're to love kubrick, i might add - constant re-watching). 'contagious enthusiasm' she called it. ever since, i've found less & less to get enthused about as far as films go. having said that, of course, when i DO get enthused, look out.

p.s. fair to say that the majority of the academic literary criticism i read lacks any such enthusiasm. rather one constantly comes across the dull tone of a writer who knows his/her readership expects no fanfare. 'if you're so academically specialised as to actually want to read this article, you're probably already committed to/excited about the text in question'. maybe. but what a limiting (dare i say cliquey?) way to go about things.

where were we? 'the fugitive'. the efficiency & 'tightness' of the support cast, in particular, lee jones's crew. i love their interaction. a zippy, intelligent, co-operative investigate effort. the images of this group effort balance so nicely next to the wonderful montages of harrison ford going it alone in the windy city - at once trying to evade capture & solve his wife's murder. the montages are a serious highlight for me, backed as they are by james newton howard's urban, pacey & again, 'efficient' classical score. incorporating snare & tom drums & classy percussion alongside normal orchestral sounds gives the chicago montages a really 'busy', dramatic & gritty edge. it's a classical sound which i think has influenced a lot of films/tv-series since. newton howard would go on to write the very 'busy', percussion-dominated opening theme to the hugely successful series 'ER'.

HAVING SAID THAT, there are also moments of real windy-city melancholy in the soundtrack. the opening theme, for example, heard over the top of really quite beautiful helicopter-shots of chicago at night - it builds to a quite emotional cymbal-assisted crescendo. it's actually one of the most effective opening credit sequences i can remember. mildly tragic but (& the wail of police sirens heard thru the opening theme reinforces this) essentially dramatic.

& then of course there's that moment during one of many montages (these montages, coincidentally, give off a real sense of chicago's 'greyness' & low-rise grittiness, which i love) when you hear a crazy but contained saxophone, wailing away behind a brooding section of the score. my god that sax sounds good, i decided after about the tenth time i'd seen the film. after buying the film soundtrack about a year ago i found out the sax-player was actually wayne shorter, apparently one of the better jazz players of the last few decades. you only hear him for about 30 seconds, but he provides a tiny bit of tang to an otherwise speedy, percussive score.

& speaking of cameos. another subtle reason why this film is formulaic-great is a 5-minute appearance from julianne moore as, that word again, a very 'busy' nurse. this may have been the first film she ever appeared in. either way, even though she only has about ten lines, you can't help but sit up & take notice. every one of those ten lines is delivered with such genuine nurse-ish routine authority. watch the way she reveals to lee jones that ford (dr. kimble) saved a boy's life on his fugitive dash through the hospital. it's a vital line - one that reinforces kimble's distinctly uncriminal humanity to the still-stern-faced detective. 'he saved his life', she says with such tired conviction.

these are the little background reasons, then, why 'the fugitive' is worth watching & re-watching. it's not a film that's going to revolutionise the artform, but it is a film that proves just how effective formula can be if directors/producers pay attention to subtle details - score, pace, support cast, use of montage, location. the fact it's a rollicking good story also helps.

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