By Stuart McLaren (Norwich, UK)
Just watched Pacino in Revolution (Alt. Title: Al And His Amazing Technicolour Dream-Wig) a film I had never seen, even though I was alive and reasonably sentient when the film first came out. But you know how it is, a lazy winter Sunday afternoon; recovering after too many beers on Saturday night; the film was on the box; the sofa looked inviting; I had the necessary salty snacks in the cupboard; and before I knew it, I had succumbed to couch-potato syndrome. It was either that or put up the Christmas decorations and go and buy a tree. On the whole, the decorations option would have been a better use of 2.5 hours.
The town scenes in Revolution were largely filmed in King’s Lynn, an historic market and port town on the north coast of the English county of Norfolk, which is the county I live in. King’s Lynn has lots of authentic period architecture and dock areas that could easily stand in for 18th Century Philadelphia – the political epicentre of the Revolution in question. But the town also does a god impression of 18th Century New York as well. Kudos to King’s Lynn; always a professional and dedicated scenic actor. Although, unfortunately, this was the only aspect of the film where authenticity was prominent, but more of that later. The film was directed by Hugh “Chariots” Hudson; had a good cast; I am a fan of much of Pacino’s work; his co-star was Nastassja Kinski (always worth watching) and there was a host of British character actors in minor parts.
All good reasons for giving the film a go, you would have thought? Nay, nay and thrice nay, thou should’ve climbed the ladder and searched thy loft for the box marked “Xmas”. Brief synopsis – widower Al and his son, get inadvertently caught up in the American War of Independence, after their cargo boat is commandeered. There follows a series of predictable mishaps, chases, capture, interaction and salvation provided by friendly Native Americans (who just happen to speak perfect English and French on top of their own language – how convenient) who witness Al killing a couple of other Native Americans who, guess what, were the sworn enemies of Al’s saviour tribesmen. Which, I think you will agree, is all totally believable and feasible (?) Seriously though, this is the level of disbelief one has to suspend, or perhaps hang, draw and quarter, for this film… and that example is not the worst of it. Nastassja is woefully underused, making spasmodic appearances as Al’s love interest. She being the well to do young daughter of an upper-middle class English family, who is somehow filled to the brim with Revolutionary zeal.
Needless to say, no mention is made of the obvious and cavernous age-gap between her and old Al. Which brings me back to the hairpiece, rug, or syrup as they say over here – rhyming slang Syrup of Fig = Wig. Obviously, this was used in an attempt to make middle-aged Al’s character look younger, and perhaps less of a cradle-snatcher with regard to Miss Kinski. Alas, the attempt failed…miserably! We first spot the wig after an early town scene. Al’s character (Tom Dobbs) has his boat purloined by the Revolutionary Army, and he is given a credit note/docket to redeem for financial compensation, which he duly takes to the Town Hall (it could have been a courthouse, or an assembly room – who knows?) where he finds lots of other docket holders, who are all told they will get their money and an allocation of land in 2 weeks’ time, when the War is over.
Now, call me an old cynic if you must, and allowing for the known tendency of real-life politicians and army Generals to badly predict the duration of wars, but… even so – 2 weeks! This is a war for independence against the might of the British Empire (at that time), and without wishing to offend any American readers, they were a relatively small and disparate nation at that point, which makes it all the more remarkable what they achieved in the real historic struggle, which I should think most Americans are rightly, and justly, proud of. I would be…But, I digress. So, back to Al/Tom, who enters the Town Hall sporting his usual jet-black (perhaps product enhanced) Italian/American hair style, only to emerge minutes later sporting a light chestnut brown wig, which is beautifully coiffured and blow dried. Perhaps it was a Town Hall & Hairdressing Salon? Good business use of municipal facilities. Well done Colonial Philadelphia, or was it Colonial New York?
Regarding the wig, things are made worse by its design, which is in the mullet + rat’s tail style of the 1980s, and looks like it was based on Billy-Ray Cyrus of “Achy-Breaky Heart” fame. Is this period authentic I ask, rhetorically? Did the Director think that viewers wouldn’t notice? Did Al/Tom notice? Was it a case of Superstar Actor vanity? Unfortunately, the poor old wig has to go through the rest of the film dragging Al/Tom along beneath itself; changing colour to various hues of brown, getting wet but always washed, well blow-dried and brushed in the very next scene. Even when Al has a token, strategically placed, small amount of dirt on his face the wig is always immaculate. Maybe it is just me, but doesn’t this detract from the believability of the film?
Throughout the rest of the film Al is acted off the screen by the intrepid wig. I hope the wig had some harsh words with its agent about getting better and separate billing in future roles. Why it didn’t get the nod for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year is an injustice that should be rectified by a special award when the wig reaches a ripe old actor’s age. Nastassja’s character (Mary something, I was past caring by now) falls in love with Al/Tom, and presumably the wig, when their eyes meet in a crowd. They then, miraculously manage to meet again, in Philadelphia, New York, Valley Forge, and back in Philadelphia/New York throughout the turmoil and upheaval of the Revolutionary War. Obviously, amazing coincidences can happen in real life war situations, but do they really happen 5 or 6 times in a row, over many years, and many locations? A tad unlikely, I think.
Reminded me of The Duellists, a movie where the two protagonists (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine if you’re still reading and/or interested) manage to accidentally keep bumping into each other during the Napoleonic Wars, over several years, in Paris, Austerlitz, on the retreat from Moscow etc. Again, somewhat unlikely, given the huge number of troops involved. At one point, Nastassja’s character is hit squarely in the jaw with a sword, wielded by a cavalry officer, riding full pace on a big white charger. The next time we meet her, there is not so much as bruise, or scar, or any sign of a broken jaw. Not a thing. Despite the fact that the supposed ferocity of the blow and sound effect, in that scene, would have been enough to make an elephant think about slumping to the ground.
And in other Authenticity News, I should also mention street names that look like they have been handwritten on cloth cut from white restaurant tablecloths, and then gaffer taped to the scenery. Or how about a crowded, bare knuckle pugilistic encounter, between one black and one white boxer, where not a single racist comment is made by any of the mainly white audience. Of course, such comments are rightly not acceptable today, but this is (supposedly) an 18th Century open air first fight in a dock area of a town. Surely such views, albeit abhorrent ones, would have been prevalent at such a contest back then? Apparently not, according to the film makers. Such enlightened sports spectators in those days. Both Al and Nastassja are very good actors, but they both suffer for their art in this film, due to gaping authenticity gaffs and a script that is much more ridiculous than sublime. Any actor needs parts that are right for them, and can showcase their abilities. Think of Al in Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow, Scarface and of course The Godfather. For Nastassja, one immediately thinks of Tess (I must admit, I fell head over heels for her in that one), Paris, Texas and Hotel New Hampshire.
They must both wonder why they got involved in this hash of a movie. It can’t just have been the money. Maybe it was one of those that looked better on paper in the original project meeting. To be fair to Hugh though, with an historical (or in this case, hysterical) backdrop of such a vast scale and importance, it can be difficult to maintain a believable narrative largely based around 3 or 4 individuals. Not many Directors can pull that one off… maybe David Lean, Kurosawa, Eisenstein, Bertolucci and D.W. Griffith – if you can reconcile yourself with his outdated political views – have managed to achieve it; but it is not a long list. I seem to remember that Revolution suffered from budget issues (it shows) and was panned by the critics, when it was originally released. That is not always a good indicator of watchability, because views can change over time, and what critics hate audiences sometimes love, or turn into a cult film. Sadly, that is not the case with Revolution.
The original critics were right, it is a stinker! You know a film is bad when you get excited by the prospect of advert breaks. And, yes, I know it was probably edited for TV afternoon viewing but, honestly, even if it was the Full Directors Cut with extra footage, it would still be a stinker! If you find yourself watching Revolution, my advice would be to play “spot the continuity errors”, and British viewers can also play “who is that supporting actor?”- a list that includes Sid (“Rickeey”!) Owen; Dexter Fletcher (a brilliant, underrated and naturally gifted actor, even in this), Robbie Coltrane and, for some bizarre reason Annie Lennox. Rock-chick to bit-part film actor, never a wise casting choice. Then again, who am I to judge? I found Casablanca a confusingly scripted, and directed film, and an improbable and unauthentic story. If it hadn’t been for the stunningly beautiful Ingrid B.; the famous quotes; As Time Goes By and the much-parodied ending, I would never have got through that Cinema Classic. It took me several attempts, mind you.
PS: I bet Miss Kinski gets really annoyed when people misprint her name as Natasha.