Friday 26 November 2021

Three Days of the Condor (1975)


Off-List: Tre Døgn for Condor

I recall having watched “Three Days of the Condor” ages ago, so when this movie popped up as a 1975 movie not on the List, I knew I had to add it. As it turned out, most of the things I thought I remembered from the movie turned out to be wrong and this was very much like watching the movie for the first time. Only the image of a worried Robert Redford with big glasses held true.

Fortunately, “Three Days of the Condor” is as good as I remember, especially the opening half hour is very promising. Joe Turner (Robert Redford), codenamed Condor, works at a CIA office looking for intelligence clues in books and magazines from around the world. They simply read them and scan them electronically. Sounds very 21st century, but using old, noisy and very unwieldy machinery. One day while Joe is out to pick up lunch, a hit squad headed by the mysterious Joubert (Max von Sydow), takes out the entire office. That sort of ruins Joe’s day. He is not a field agent and is confused on what to do. The obvious thing is to call the head office for help, but when the agent sent to bring him in wants to kill him, Joe realizes that this was an inside job, and he probably cannot trust anybody.

Of course he hooks up with a pretty girl (Faye Dunaway), who does not believe him, but eventually is won our by the immense Redford charm (oh dear…) and Joe goes from hunted to hunter as he sets out to find those who killed his colleagues.

That first half hour is phenomenal, but then “Three Days of the Condor” moves into template-land. Maybe I have just watched too many spy/conspiracy thrillers, and I am a bit hard on it. To me it felt as if the steam came off around the middle part and the entire girl hostage part is mostly unnecessary but quite predictable. They just had to bring in a love interest. Then comes the unravelling of the conspiracy and again the story gets tighter. There are some interesting and mildly puzzling things around the Joubert character. A hitman who is professional to the fingertips, entirely cold on his kills, with no other loyalty than his job, but outside the job jovial and entirely ordinary. The way Joe Turner is a regular guy with an odd job, so is Joubert.

The targets of this movie are the power games casually played by agencies like CIA. The hit was orchestrated by a renegade group within CIA (ups, spoiler…), but not more renegade than having opinions and employing methods condoned by the larger CIA. This makes the larger organization just as guilty as the renegade operation, and Joe learns there is really no difference.

In the wake of Watergate and a number of other shenanigans, “Three Days of the Condor” tapped into a general sentiment of distrust toward the power structures, which anchors it in this period, but the theme has been persistent and works just as well today. Conspiracies, or at least the suspicion of conspiracies are very much alive and well today and while many belongs to the fringe, there are enough crazy stunts around the world to feed Hollywood for decades to come.

Shake off the clichés and template structure and “Three Days of the Condor” is highly entertaining. It has its eye-rolling moments, but there is enough meat here to keep me going and yeah, I admit it, I read a lot of these stories in my youth.

Not exactly Academy material, but you could do a lot worse than watching “Three Days of the Condor”.


Friday 19 November 2021

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)



The big winner at the Academy Awards for 1975 was “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It took five statues, including the big ones and remains to this day a very famous and celebrated movie. Yet, I never saw it until now. Probably something to do with that it takes place inside a mental asylum. I have always had a fear of mental illness.

Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) arrives at a mental institution from a labor camp (prison). He is there so they can find out if he is insane or just faking it. What Randle discovers is that life at the ward is tightly controlled by nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and that the other inmates are effectively pacified. Randle McMurphy is a maladjusted rebel and he soon chafe under the tight regime and instigate various rebellions, including a spontaneous fishing trip and a party in the ward with prostitutes. It is will against will, but nurse Ratched is no pushover.

When I learned that director Milos Forman saw the story as a metaphor for life under the communist thumb in Czechoslovakia, it was not difficult to decode this movie. The patients are the powerless and largely pacified regular people who has been dumbed down into apathy and are considered nitwits by the authorities. Those who do rebel, in particular McMurphy, are faced off and dealt with, the electro chock likely being a metaphor for torture and re-education.

I like this metaphor, it is very sympathetic. My problem is just that to some extent I actually sympathize with the hospital. Many if not most of the patients are very sick and need to be cushioned. They need the protected environment that is the hospital and as some of these inmates can get quite agitated there need to be some degree of firmness. At the same time Randle McMurphy is an asshole, he is in prison for a pretty good reason, and he is a very disturbing element in the ward. That is a poor starting point when you are supposed to take his side in the power struggle with nurse Ratched.

McMurphy does get to sympathize with many of the other patients, although he think them more capable than they really are, and when the system gets pushed it is revealed as being more interested in asserting its control than the well being of the patients and the fatal ending is on the head of nurse Ratched and the institution, so I guess in the end I was won over.

“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is notable for introducing a number of famous actors, such as Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif and Christopher Lloyd and that in itself makes it an interesting movie to watch, but also for its own sake it is a well put together movie and a strong performance from both Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. I am still early on 1975, so I cannot tell what it was up against, but I was not so impressed with it that I would have expected it to be in contention for all those Academy Awards. But then again, the Academy loves movies about disabilities.

I do think it is an interesting perspective though, to see the inhabitants of communist East Europe as living in an insane asylum and treated as disenfranchised cattle, unable to take care of themselves and the rebels as being lobotomized by the authorities. I am just not certain the metaphor was entirely successful. I am preparing myself to be crucified for that position…

Nevertheless, this is a must-see, if nothing else then for its significance and a Jack Nicholson at the top of his game.


Friday 12 November 2021

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)


En skæv eftermiddag

Sidney Lumet is becoming one of my favorite directors. He consistently manages to get a lot out of his material and at least those of his movies that are on the List have managed to draw me in like few others. But then again, starting out with “12 Angry Men” is a running start.

“Dog Day Afternoon” is on paper not a big movie. Its premise is simple enough, a bank robbery goes south because the criminals are a bunch of desperate amateurs, and develops into a hostage drama. Lumet, however molded it into something more, a lot more actually, and this is likely to be one of the best movies of 1975.

Al Pacino is Sonny, who together with Sal (John Cazale) and Stevie (Gary Springer) tries to rob a bank in Brooklyn. The three of them are clearly not very experienced in this line of business and already in the opening Stevie backs out. Sonny tries to take charge of the situation, but he is easy to confuse and it does not help that the cash deposit of the bank was picked up earlier in the day. As much as he wants to be tough, he is also a softie resulting in a number of absurd situations, such as him trying to lock up the staff in the vault, but the girls have to take turns on the toilet first or Sonny insisting on burning the bank registry for reasons he cannot even explain himself, which create the smoke that attracts concerned neighbors and soon the police is there.

Now, I did say police, but it is more like an army of police. Hundreds of heavily armed policemen with helicopters surround the building, climb the roof tops and man the fences. FBI moves in and thousands of spectators. Sonny is not up to this but tries anyway and, somehow, he becomes the little man against the system. People cheer for him and even the staff in the bank treat him with sympathy. It only gets weirder when it turns out Sonny is married with several children and to a gay man called Leon who wants a sex change operation. Sonny wants to do the right thing for people around him but has some pretty crazy and desperate ideas on how to do it.

This is definitely an actor’s movie. There is not much of a plot here, but rather a number of people acting this crazy situation out. Not least Al Pacino. This is a huge departure from his Godfather character. Totally opposite in fact. Sonny has absolutely nothing under control, least of all himself. In a way this did remind me of “12 Angry Men” and not only because everybody are drenched in sweat. It is the dialogue driven plot and the clash of personalities, even the absurdities in this clash.

Somehow “Dog Day Afternoon” becomes a metaphor for the larger society, political in a way, but also an exposition of the absurdities. The regular guy reduced to a bank robber, the overwhelming force of the authorities pitched against the little man, the rebellion against these authorities and the need of the public for symbols for such a rebellion. Meanwhile, it all turns into a sideshow of absurdities, which the media does its best to exaggerate and milk. This is 1975 but it could just as well have been 2021.

I found “Dog Day Afternoon” hilarious and sad, absurd and relevant and thoroughly interesting, both to watch and to think of afterwards. It is by no means a big movie, but it is definitely one of the better movies around. 1975 is off to a good start. Highly recommended.


Monday 8 November 2021

Naturlig Energi (1975)


Off-List: Naturlig Energi

The first movie of 1975 will also be the first off-List movie of the year. When I recently visited the Cinematek in Copenhagen to watch “Stjerner og Vandbærere” I also watched “Naturlig Energi” from 1975. It was a movie I had never heard of until I started researching movies for 75, but given the subject matter, this was a movie I just had to watch.

“Naturlig Energi” means Natural Energy (should not be a surprise, really) and is a documentary on the natural alternatives to burning fossil fuels. This was shortly after the oil crisis of 73 so supply security was a big thing, but also in the wake of the hippie movement there was a strong concern with pollution and being “unnatural”. Burning a finite resource is certainly unsustainable. Global warming, however, was not a concern at the time.

What the movie does is explore the alternatives to fossil fuel and it sets up a roadmap to how the country can reduce or even eliminate the need for fossil fuels without going into nuclear power (which in this context is also considered unnatural).

The remarkable thing about this movie is that every single item explored here has become reality or are in the process of becoming so. The motive may have changed but the instruments are the same.

It is suggested to reduce the need for energy for heating through better insulation and it tells of experiments at DTH (now DTU) with energy neutral houses that gets all it energy through solar heaters and a warm water tank. Today, building codes prescribe low energy consumption, low energy houses is the standard and a large percentage of houses in Denmark produce more energy with PVs than they use.

It is suggested to use the surplus heat from power plants to heat up homes rather than letting it go to waste. Today, all major cities in Denmark gets their heating from a central heating network, bringing surplus heat from the power plant and into our homes.

Wind energy is touted as being the energy source of the future. We see the construction of the giant 1MW turbine at Tvind and the small Riisager turbines that individuals could buy and set up next to their home. Shortly after this movie those Riisager turbines became the first series produced turbines to feed directly to the grid and today 50% of the electricity demand in Denmark is covered by wind energy. The Tvind turbine is still producing. Its technology is hopelessly outdated, but it still works.

The problem of intermittency, that the sun does not always shine and there is not always wind, is emphasized and it is suggested to store surplus power as hydrogen through electrolysis. Today we call it “power-to-X” and it is probably the fastest growing field in the energy business. Two artificial islands are planned in Denmark to receive power from wind turbines to convert it to hydrogen to supply fuel for particularly ships.

Energy sources can be combined and a decentral network of smaller powerplants that combine electricity, heating and storage may supply small communities far more flexibly than big power plants. Today Denmark has a network of decentral power plants doing exactly that. Mixing energy sources and actively using the flexibility on the grid has now become hot also outside Denmark, but we have done it for at least 20 years already.

The movie suggests that growth is not a given success criteria and another dogma should be considered. Where did I hear that before?

It also suggests that the only way all this can be done is bottom-up, by involving the individual and take local action, with the support of politicians, of course. This was exactly how we got all those wind turbines in the eighties and nineties and now PVs, electrical cars and so many other items that actually works are driven bottom-up.

The only item mentioned in the movie which has not come true is the reduction on transport emissions by having people live closer to work. Though, maybe it has. We learned during the pandemic that so many work functions can be done from home, that we do not need to travel that much and that our quality of life can be improved remarkably if we do not have to spend two hours each day on transport.

For me personally this was super interesting. This is exactly what I do for a living. I have been planning wind farms for more than twenty years. My colleagues have been designing decentralized power plants just as long and now they add power-to-X to it and advice companies how they can become energy efficient or even power neutral by mixing production and storage actively with the grid. I know personally many of the people who made all this happen. I met Mr. Riisager and I know people who worked in the Tvind turbine.

We are not there yet. In fact, there is an awful long way to go, but this movie, 6 years ago, showed us the way.

Very highly recommended if you can find it.


Saturday 6 November 2021

The Towering Inferno (1974)


Det tårnhøje helvede

The last movie of 1974 is “The Towering Inferno”, an added movie from the 10th edition revision of the Book.

This is one of the most iconic of the seventies disaster movies, the one most people would have seen. It was frequently enough on television in my childhood but was, rightly so, deemed unsuitable for children to watch.

On the opening night of the tallest skyscraper in the world a fire breaks out due to faulty electrical wiring and hundred of people are trapped in the building, including 300 guests at the opening party on the top floor. In classic disaster movie style, we follow a variety of characters through a night that is growing increasingly desperate as the fire spreads.

Paul Newman is the chief architect of the tower, Doug Robert, who, too late, discovers that his specs has not been followed in a bid to reduce costs. Rather than attend the party, he goes on a hunt to survey the scale of the problem. Too late as it turns out, the bad wiring has already started a fire on the 81’st floor. The fire brigade, headed by Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) are called in but as bad wiring is just one of many unsafe shortcuts, the fire spreads fast and is soon out of control.

A stellar ensemble cast includes William Holden as James Duncan, builder of the tower, Faye Dunaway as his daughter, Susan. Richard Chamberlain as her scumbag husband Roger, Robert Vaughn as a senator, O.J. Simpson as Harry Jernigan, security and not least Fred Astaire as an elderly con-man, just to mention a few.

This is a big movie in every sense of the word. Irwin Allen really went out of his way to create a spectacle. A skyscraper on fire is no simple affair and though some of the cinematography looks a bit dated, there is no doubt this is a landmark movie on pyrotechnics, special effects and stunts. The scale of the thing makes Allen’s previous movie, “The Poseidon Adventure” small and primitive by comparison. Usually on large scale disaster movies the acting drama takes the back seat and suffers as a result, but for a change this is not too shabby. Not surprising, really, when you have both Newman and McQueen in the movie. That cannot go wrong.

I was worried going in how this movie would work post-9/11. We have all seen the pictures of the twin towers on fire and people trapped on the top floors desperately trying to escape, recently even, as media was full of it less than 2 months ago at the marking of 20 years since the event. There are a lot of parallels and I kept making comparisons. The problem is that no matter how brutal Allen is, killing people left and right, it pales compared to the horror of 9/11. Reality trumps fiction. I suppose it takes something away from the movie and leaves a bit of poor taste in the mouth. McQueen’s last words that some day thousands of people will be stuck in such a building turned uncanny prophetic.

There is a parallel as well to human hubris, a combo of the Tower of Babel and the Icaros myth. Humans reaching for the sky, but being only humans with human failings, they get, literally, burnt.

I liked the movie a lot better than I had expected. It works on many levels, and I think that the lack of CGI and other modern tricks forces an emphasis on other element. Not for lack of trying, there is a lot of fire here, but there is also dramatic content.

And with that, I am ready for 1975…