Thursday, March 18, 2010

ELEPHANT (1989) - Alan Clarke

In honor of St. Patty's Day, I popped a few Guinness and shifted focus to the North from Angry Young British Men to Angry Young Irishmen. Not being a student of the "Troubles," all I new of Alan Clarke's notorious BBC short film prior to this was that it inspired Gus Van Sant's feature-length Columbine recreation of the same name. Taken out of context, it's just a series of random executions spliced back to back over 40 minutes. Guy walks into gymnasium locker room and shoots another guy dead. Guy walks into a gas station, shoots the guy behind the counter dead. Guy walks onto soccer field, kicks the ball around a few times, shoots the guy he was just volleying with dead. Etcetera. Etcetera. Repeat. Repeat.

By the fifth killing you're checking your watch, and by the fifteenth you're absolutely numb. This was probably Clarke's point, that the violence in Northern Ireland had become so omnipresent that it had desensitized everyone around it. The killers and their victims are given zero backstory or dialogue. No motivations, no names. All you know is that in each new scene someone will pull out a gun and someone will fall dead to the ground. Other than a few signs on storefronts, you wouldn't even necessarily know this took place in Ireland.

Clarke's approach is a risky proposition artistically. You know by the second killing that you are watching not a film so much as a Statement. After that, you're mostly just left to admire his amazing Steadicam work, following gunmen at their backs in and out of warehouses, parks, offices, restaurants on the way to and from their victims. It's like watching the opening scene of great '70s British gangster film...18 times over.

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