Saturday, September 18, 2004

James Dickey's Deep Dive

caught the tail-end of John Boorman's adaptation of James Dickey's novel Deliverance (1972) on TV the other night. I mean the very end of the movie where Dickey, as the soon-to-be-flooded town's sherrif, confronts Jon Voight and Ned Beatty about the number of life-preservers found in their battered rafts. Dickey thinks something evil had happened, and I got to confess Dickey does a good job of being a nasty, sinister, paranoid dude.

I must've seen the movie at least a hundred times since it's opening. it is an evil, beautiful film with a simple narrative plot device, paddling down-river by three ordinary suburbanites and one guy, Burt Reynolds' character Lewis, who is hell-bent for primordial action, in order to create dread and suspense. the soundtrack, acoustic banjos and guitars along with ambient soundscapes, creates both an atmosphere of action and horror. even the last frame of the film is suffused with sickening dread.

the movie is iconic to say the least, most can quote: squeal like a pig, boy! and nearly everyone can identify its source without being told its name. but is it groundbreaking cinema? the 1970s was a time when taboos were broken, and cinema, whether commercial, art-house, horror, exploitation or porn, was mining rich veins of themes and subjects. recall the summer blockbuster was practically invented by Jaws and Star Wars, and Deep Throat was a huge commercial hit in the 1970s.

but Deliverance is perhaps best viewed not by its title, after all does Voight find deliverance in committing violent acts?, but by its raw emotional power and iconography. it is a big-budget exploitationer, a very good one at that. Dickey's novel is a summer read, and the film adaptation is a movie best viewed at Halloween. it only skims themes stated broadly by its title. what depth can be found in the movie is the veneer of human drapavity exemplified by Burt Reynolds' Lewis and the two woodsmen who initiated the atrocities. Boorman's film dives deep in the shallow pool of its own actions. Dickey is surprisingly good actor. it is wonderful to see the wildman poet, as I understand he was a hardcore alchy and show-off, use that persona to good effect. that alone is an accomplishment.


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