Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April Apocalypse Part I: Life's What You Make It


Like any hack-y, low quality, amateur writer, I'm all about alliteration, so for the month of April, I thought I'd look at some of my favorite end-of-the-world movies in a series called April Apocalypse. In my opinion, the best examples the genre has to offer are films that bring some allegorical elements to the table and comment on society, human behavior, religion, politics or what-have-you. No P/A film that I know of is more ambitious in this respect than Daniel Bourla's 1975 oddity, The Noah. In it, people, cultures, armies, even entire civilizations are created and destroyed by just one character.



In a mash-up of Robinson Crusoe, the Book of Genesis and twentieth century history, writer/director Daniel Bourla creates a film that is both intimate and epic in scope. With a lead character that can easily be interpreted as either the solitary everyman or the lord almighty Himself, Bourla ambitiously critiques mankind, religion, indoctrination, and well, just about everything to do with anthropology. He attempts to relate this monumental allegorical tale through a lone soldier who has survived the apocalypse and landed on a deserted island paradise. The soldier emerges from his small life raft with his gear including, amusingly, a set of golf clubs. The island is devoid of all former enemies but is littered with a multitude of their broken down vehicles and abandoned structures some of which house pictures and busts of ideological leaders. The soldier wastes no time and sets up camp in an orderly, military fashion.



Oscar-nominated character actor Robert Strauss basically puts on a one-man show, with some voiceover and newsreel audio assists along the way, and plays the lead as arrogant, bellicose but ultimately pitiable. Imagine a much angrier, misogynistic, ultra-conservative Tom Hanks (minus the volleyball) from Zemeckis' Cast Away and you'll have an idea of Strauss' character in The Noah. Despite the initial churlish aspects of the soldier, one can't help softening toward him once he meets/creates his companion Friday. Friday, who is voiced by Geoffrey Holder in his maaaavelous baritone, is initially subservient to "The Noah" nearly to the point of noxiousness. But since The Noah is Friday's creator, his eager-to-please attitude makes perfect sense. And the soldier seems only too happy to be worshipped by Friday. As a sign of friendship (or his ever-spiraling decent into madness), The Noah builds Friday his own latrine.



Trouble comes, however, with the introduction of The Noah's next creation - a woman. The soldier tips his hand early on about his feelings on women in monologue statements like "I never had to pay for it in my life" which when a man states this, it generally indicates two things:
1. He has always had to pay for it.
2. He can't relate to women in any way, shape or form.
The woman, Friday-Anne, voiced by the great Sally Kirkland, immediately throws passive-aggressive attitude The Noah's way while simultaneously warming up to Friday. It's exactly the kind of antagonistic relationship I imagine Lilith would have had with God. She never becomes outright disrespectful, but just questions everything in a snarky tone. Of course, the ersatz Adam and Eve are eventually tossed out of paradise in a somewhat darkly comical scene leaving The Noah to start from scratch. His next effort begins with teaching children all the important things.


Eventually the children grow up, form cultures and begin to argue causing an ever-increasing cacophony of voices which The Noah attempts to quell with religious dogma.


Ultimately though, the chaos not only continues, but morphs into 20th century history. As The Noah perpetually wanders through the broken down, abandoned vehicle remnants on the island, the audible history of the past decades play out. By the end of the film, whether you interpret the soldier as a solitary, mad survivor or a lone, flawed god, you wind up feeling quite sorry for him and mankind in general.


Bourla's concept is absolutely brilliant and quite well executed, considering it's his only directorial effort. Strauss is just the kind of range-y character actor to handle a role that is alternately amusing, serious or sad. My only problems with the film were the slow pace and the needlessly long dirge-like, audio stroll through 20th century events. A few minutes of it brought home the point, but Bourla let it play out for nearly half an hour. I can enjoy a prolonged sequence like that in a Béla Tarr film, but it seems excessive here. 
The film has a strange history in that it was made in 1968, not screened at all until 1975 and never released theatrically. It is available on DVD and highly recommended for the patient, intellectual, P/A fan.

Score 7.75


7 comments:

  1. I should give this one another go. I watched it one night when I couldn't really focus on it, and this is a very 'mood' film.

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  2. Scared Shiftless,

    My son brought this to my attention and since you evidently devoted some time to view it (one of very few that have seen it) I would like to offer an explanation on your comment regarding the length of the night scenes at the end. .

    There are two explanations for this.

    1. The film was edited in an old moviola in my house that only had two sound tracks, so there was no way for me to check the flow of the film with all 16 sound tracks used. This became possible only during the mix and, at that time, having booked 14 hrs $ $500 per, my finances did not permit a break of a day or two to shorted the last part of the film by 10-15 minutes or so that was needed (no more).

    2. At any rate, there was not a single sound in the film that was indiscriminately placed in it: everything had a purpose and a meaning. Unfortunately, one needed to be a linguist and possibly an historian to catch every nuance in it. For instance, did you catch the German SS doctor doing his selection at the Auschwitz train track? The little German girl asking Noah if he is Santa Claus who came on a plane while bombs are falling? The irony of the three militant powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) becoming Westernized (Babysitter Twist, 34,000 lire TV question, Japanese Rumba) while it is the US which now becomes the militant power (Korea, Vietnam). Yes, this part of the film is 10-15 minutes too long but, in retrospect, that weakness could have been minimized with subtitles.

    You evidently did not notice that the last reel was totally out of synch in the transfer to DVD.

    Thanks again for viewing it and your comments.

    Daniel Bourla

    P.S. Yes, Emily, you should give it another go.

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    1. Mr. Bourla,

      I understand that it's been a couple of years since you last commented on this website, however I wanted to try to get a hold of you. I recently watched "The Noah" and I think it one of the best movies I've seen. I could read these comments for hours, gaining insight as to some of the nuances and how the film came to be. The props, set and the ending are some of my favorite aspects of "The Noah." While I respect your time and assume you've got more important things to do than read every tribute to your film, I'd deeply appreciate any sort of response. Thank you,

      E

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  3. Wow! Thanks for your insightful comments! They go along way in explaining some questions I had. Without a doubt, this is a film that has some real depth to it and bears re-watching multiple times. Like Emily, I struggled with it on my initial viewing but recognized its dense thematic quality. On subsequent revisits, I picked up more and more details and nuances to the point that it is now one of my favorite P/A films. It's unfortunate subtitles weren't available as I needed the assistance at several points and I did notice the sync issue late in the film (thought it was just my disc) but overall, it didn't adversely effect my enjoyment. Thank you again for taking the time to clarify and enlighten.

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  4. Glad it was of help. If interested, let me have an email address @ dnl.bourla@gmail.com and I can email to you the dialogue list of the film – or at least the 2nd part when the sound track becomes very busy.

    The far reaches of Northern California I assume just as hospitable (and far away from today’s insanity)to remaining Neanderthals as the Caribbean, where I have retreated to now.

    Best,

    Daniel

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    Replies
    1. Can't thank you enough Daniel. Received the supplemental info today and plan on revisiting the film again next weekend. With sincere appreciation, Jeff

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