Thursday, August 17, 2006

Targets (1968)

Where did Peter Bogdanovich go? These days, he comes across as a pretentious movie-geek guy who talks about other peoples’ movies and left his talented wife for Cybill Shepherd. But you know what? He used to make really good movies. Like Targets

You thought I was going to say The Last Picture Show, didn’t you?

Targets was made for Roger Corman with the stipulation that footage from an old Boris Karloff movie had to be used and Boris Karloff had to be in it for the two contracted days he owed Corman. The movie is in fact about an unmotivated shooting spree. Patching these two things together could have been a disaster. What happened instead was a weirdly affecting look at horror in the movies and in life.

Half the story involves “Byron Orlok,” an old-time horror movie star, making a break for retirement while Peter Bogdanovich tries to get him to read a script and falls asleep drunk in his bed. Yes, Bogdanovich cast himself as a director attempting to persuade Boris Karloff to make a film about “the real horror.” I wonder what the script was called? His cinematic enthusiasm is not yet jaded however, and despite the fact he appeared to only require one take from himself, his presence is amusing.

The other plotline follows Bobby Thompson as he procures lots of guns, sits in the dark a lot, and plays with us by aiming at various people with loaded weapons. This is the heart of the movie; the slow descent of a man who is about to snap for no discernable reason. The suspense ratchets up because you know this guy’s going to do something horrible, and yet no one around him can see it. This is admirably accomplished without the use of non-diegetic music. We are left with the sounds that surround him every day; the television, the radio, the news. The lighting, likewise, is very natural. In a dark room, it is dark. Ambient light has a logical source. Cigarettes glow but faces are obscured except when a passing headlight signals the wife’s return. And what will a man with a rifle who smokes in a dark room do when she gets home?

The two parties meet up at a drive in, where we are inundated with Bogdanovich’s adoration for the cinema as well as treated to a climactic finish which explicitly places movies as both cause and solution for violence. All of it is filmed with such care and intelligence that it seems preposterous that movies should have to cost so much these days when intelligent thrills can be dished out on a low budget.

Because the movie does not try to explain Bobby’s behavior, merely recreate the trajectory of this personality in such a way that you can nearly understand it, the movie feels much more insightful than one would expect from something classified as a “B picture.” In the end, Bobby kills because he’s an excellent marksman, and people are the only targets who make the news. This, as Karloff and Bogdanovich discuss, is the real horror.

No comments: