Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Visitors (1972)

The following review will contain constant spoilers. I have no other choice considering the film's slowness up until the climax.

Alas, I sit down to write the final Elia Kazan review. The Visitors was not intended to be my last film, On The Waterfront was. I wanted to end on a major classic, one that was considered Kazan's best. But The Visitors got in the way. It was very difficult to find. The only reason I was given the pleasure of viewing it is by purchasing a region one export from the UK. That's The Visitors for you. It was the Elia Kazan nobody ever saw, and nobody will ever see, which is quite tragic, considered it is a very powerful film.

They idea for The Visitors, clearly comes from a true story, that later went on to become the subject of Brian de Palma's Casualties of War. There are many differences between the two films. They both took very different approaches. Casualties of War is a very un-subtle film about when the events actually unfolded. Where as, The Visitors is a very subtle film that takes place after the events depicted in Casualties of War occurred.

The character Michael J. Fox plays in Casualties of War, is the character James Woods plays in The Visitors. In fact, this was James Woods feature film debut. He was the only actor in The Visitors to go to becoming a star. In fact, Woods starred in such films afterwards as Once Upon a Time in America, The Virgin Suicides, Casino and Videodrome.

I think it is pretty clear that I cannot find very much to say about The Visitors. I don't want to bore you with dull details, so I'll stop now. Where does The Visitors stand today? It is most likely the most unpopular film Elia Kazan ever made. It is practically impossible to find on DVD. It currently holds a 6.6 on IMDb and it does not have a score on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, it could be Kazan's most underrated film.

Bill and Martha live a very typical life on snow-ridden farm land. They have a young baby together and they live in close proximity to Martha's-pulp-western-writing-alcoholic father. All is normal until one unusual day that is marked by the arrival of Tony and Mike. Bill, Tony and Mike were three buddies back in Vietnam, and they stopped by for a quick visit. However, it soon become apparent to Martha that the three men were involved in something very secretive during Vietnam. Martha is filled with questions.

As Tony and Mike's stay lengthens, she begins to find out more than she expected. Much to her surprise, she discovers that during the war, the three men were involved in a court marshal after Tony and Mike kidnapped and rapped a young Vietnamese girl. Bill is filled with quilt for ratting the two men out to the authorities. However, Tony and Mike are filled with something much more sinister than quilt. They are filled with the need for vengeance.

I will never forget The Visitors. It uses a very clever and unique style to get a unique point across to the audience. Yes, this film, like many others, is an anti-war film. There were several films with a similar message around the time of the Vietnamese war. But none of them were anything like The Visitors. Here we witness the realism of the horror of war. No, I don't mean any Spielberg type film where blood and guts spurt out everywhere in order to show "the horrors of war". This film is all about how war scars us, how it haunts us. The Visitors creates the perfect tone in order for the rest of the film to work. And oh does it work!

 I had some problems with how Elia Kazan stretched out a great deal of the film in order to make the climax seem more abrupt, sudden and utterly terrifying. As we witness long scenes in which they sit on the couch watching football, and talking about how football players are the people who get the most women, are interest dwindles. We know how everything in the film will end, there are no surprises whatsoever. Therefore, Elia Kazan didn't need to spend so long building the realism of the lengthy discussions between Bill, Martha, Tony, Mike and Martha's father, Harry.

I've probably built up a fair bit of mystery about what happens in The Visitors. I'm going to go ahead and spoil it. What happens is, Tony and Mike beat up Bill, and rape Martha. They then drive off into the distance. The scene in which Bill is beaten is not particularly graphic, it is shown in a long shot in the middle of the night where darkness surrounds everything. Yet, it leaves us with such a feeling of horror, because of the fact that it appears so realistic. However, Elia Kazan continues to prove that Spielberg's belief that the only way to shock and audience is through graphic violence is a naive one. Tony and Mike proceed to rape Martha. We don't see any nudity in this scene, we see minor thrusting, and yet it becomes much more disturbing that the "singin' in the rain" rape scene in A Clockwork Orange. Why is this? It appears Kazan truly understood something about how to make people re-act to violence, but he didn't have enough time to truly demonstrate what he was capable of, because he spent so much of his career working under very strict regulations. Elia Kazan was never able to show as much as his films would entail. Such films as Baby Doll work because of how much he was forced to suppress the sexuality. Yet, until The Visitors, no Elia Kazan film ever felt proper. This was the only film where Elia Kazan was able to release what his films needed to show.

The Visitors manages to suffer in performances. James Woods delivers an acceptable performance that seems as though he could have delivered much more. Patricia Joyce, who plays Martha is neither good nor bad. The film would have been much better should a better actress been hired. We need a great performance to make us believe, so we can sympathize. Steve Railsback and Chico Martinez give mediocre performance as the realistic but sadistic visitors. The characters of the film are so perfectly written, but the acting doesn't live up to the film's maximum potential.

It is the quiet and cold visitor that makes the impact. After watching The Visitors, I will never be the same. No, it is not a great film, no it is not a masterpiece, but it achieves precisely what it intended to.

The Visitors,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: James Woods, Patricia Joyce and Steve Railsback
7.5/10 (B+)

1. On The Waterfront
2. Baby Doll
3. Panic in the Streets
4. A Face in the Crowd
5. Splendor in the Grass
6. East of Eden
7. A Streetcar Named Desire
8. The Visitors
9. The Last Tycoon
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
11. Viva Zapata!
12. Boomerang!
13. Pinky
14. Gentlemen's Agreement
15. Wild River
16. America, America
17. The Sea of Grass
18. Man on a Tightrope
19. The Arrangement

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