Palatable: Tracks

Tracks (1976)
Written and directed by Henry Jaglom
Produced by Howard Zuker, Elliot S. Blair, Irving Cohen, Ted Shapiro, Bert Schneider
Starring Dennis Hopper, Taryn Power, Dean Stockwell, Zack Norman, Michael Emil, Barbara Flood, Topo Swope, Alfred Ryder
From Santa Fe to his unspecified hometown somewhere in New England, a shell-shocked Army sergeant (Hopper) escorts the coffin of a fallen friend on a train where he meets a flirtatious oddity (Stockwell), a pushy peddler of realty (Norman) bantering with a chattering accountant (Emil) prepossessed with chess and sexology, one pererrating lady (Flood), and a sweet student (Power) with whom he’s enamored straightway. Jaglom’s second feature is the first produced during the immediate postwar years to address the adversities of veterans, and breathes the ardent, aimless anomy intrinsical to the climate of the ’70s. Hopper’s a cut above the great supporting cast, born to play the jittery, erratic officer whose hallucinative episodes confront him with his own penitence, nostalgia and violence. The late Stockwell meets expectations by precipitating himself from breezy geniality to desperate frenzy, and Power’s tender turn as the pretty innocent serves to highlight Hopper’s temperamental tirrets. Much of the dialogue is naturalistically extemporized; together and separately, producer Norman (A.K.A. Zuker), and Jaglom’s brother Emil are fully, pricelessly unscripted, portending their chaffing collaborations in the filmmaker’s several sequent comedies. Cameos by Alfred Ryder, Richard Romanus, Cayle Chernin, Paul Williams and Sally Kirkland are as amusive as appearances by real stewards and soldiers on the Amtrak trains from which Jaglom and his cast and crew were often ousted. His approaches to photography and histrionics correspond, as Jaglom shot players and passing locales in picturesque natural light, silhouette and shade. Only a few years before Coppola qualified it as box office gold for over a decade, popular aversion to the subject of the war prevented this movie’s theatrical distribution, but as a depiction of the traumatized soldier to become a cinematic archetype, and an unspoken reflection on the United States’s morbidly optimistic addiction to war in the 20th century, it’s yet to be bettered.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Apocalypse Now or The American Friend.

Palatable: To Live and Die in L.A.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin
Produced by Irving H. Levin, Bud S. Smith, Samuel Schulman
Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, Darlanne Fluegel, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Michael Greene
Multitudinous minor mistakes mar this energetic thriller of a gutsy Secret Service agent’s (Petersen) endeavor to apprehend a truculent counterfeiter (Dafoe) by means licit and otherwise. Friedkin proved himself as technically adept as ever during his unwarranted losing streak, sustaining his reputation as a rival to Peckinpah by his virtuoso implementation of chase scenes afoot — as Petersen and his relatively trepid partner (Pankow) pursue a wily bagman (Turturro) in LAX and other abettors in alleys and bridges — and automotive in collaboration with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, as they evade unidentified assailants through one of L.A.’s sprawling industrial districts in a breathless sequence shot with dash to match his famed train chase in The French Connection. So too does the New Hollywood veteran put his players through their paces: Petersen’s mesmerizing machismo’s countered impressively by Dafoe’s discomfiting introspection as unscrupulous opponents whose disregard for integrity and unflinching persistence steel them to contend with manifold threats and incumbrances. As the forger’s attorney, Stockwell’s gravitas serves as ballast for the more dynamic personalities at play, and Feuer and Fluegel shine sultrily as Dafoe’s terpsichorean girlfriend and Petersen’s informant and periodic slam piece. As vibrantly as those of his collaborations with Wenders, Robby Mueller’s photography of grimy Angelean streets and Lilly Kilvert’s chic interiors provides an eyeful in every shot; keenly paired with Jerry Trent’s and Sam Crutcher’s crisp foley, snappy editing by Scott Smith and Wang Chung’s percussive cuts, Friedkin sustains momentum splendidly, as during a titular montage introducing key characters and locales and a brilliantly rendered sequence demonstrating the exacting fabrication of sham cash antedating digital methods. Alas, so many great scenes are bookended by a gawky duad: otherwise sharply executed, a prologue during which Petersen and his senior partner (Greene) frustrate the designs of a Palestinian terrorist lapses at its culmination into a clumsy clinker akin to something shot by one of Golan Globus’ star directors and butchered in post-production; ulterior to a fiery climax, Pankow’s agent assumes his partner’s role and temperament to enliven a disappointing denouement wherein Friedkin fails to effect a profound transposition of identity, a flub doubly dreadful in contrast to the equivocal masterstroke with which Cruising was concluded. Furthermore, Petievich and Friedkin’s dialogue too often veers from snappy style to footling fustian — a fault one might rightly impute to scripts by Michael Mann, whose idiom influenced this pic, and who directed Petersen just so well as a heterogeneous investigator in Manhunter a year later.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Thief.