So, I like to watch films waaay past their date of relevance and then analyze them as if it’s this New Exciting Thing that I’ve just discovered. When, really, it’s just old shit I’ve dug up out of the Wayback Machine and nobody gives a damn. But this is my blog, so I intend to write about my Shiny New (Read: Old) Toy as if anyone other than me cares.
Last night I watched Frantic (1988), a forgotten Polanski genre film starring Harrison Ford and Polanski’s old lady Emmanuelle Seigner. Frantic is the story of a man who’s wife goes missing from their hotel room he finds himself plunged into Paris’ seedy underbelly.
Now, I can’t write a post about anything Polanski without referencing my extreme dislike of him not only as a director, but as a human being. I consider film to be my first love and all that junk, but I’m far from a perfect critic. I tend to look at the work of many “auteurs” with kind of a jaundiced eye. Sure, Chinatown is great, and Rosemary’s Baby is an inarguable classic, but I really just don’t think old Roman is the great artist a lot of people make him out to be. I see a lot of Woody Allen in him- a lot of his films seem to be thin excuses to practice stunt-casting (*ahem* Seigner), and, what’s more, a lot of his films read to me as direct addresses to his critics. Which just calls to mind the spoiled, entitled man-boy thing that I just hate about coddled artist types (and rich, influential, elitist, ivory-tower-dwelling fugitives from justice) in general. So again: This is really a lot of my own prejudice showing, making me far from an ideal critic. And yet, here are my random thoughts on Frantic:
(spoilers galore, you guys)
- I get that the less-than-helpful cops, the exasperated tourist-district shopkeepers, and the gratuitous sex scene are supposed to support the entire point of the film; which is that the City of Lights is not your tourist Disneyland, Ugly Americans. However, as someone who’s spent a fair enough amount of time in Europe, I found it sliiiightly ham-fisted. The French are the French, OK, even American audiences get that. No need to kick us in the chest and scream, “THIS. IS. PARIS” at your audience.
- Not-so-veiled anti-Arab sentiment? Check.
- American protagonist as naive, square, bumbling buffoon? Check.
- To go into further detail on the above, Harrison Ford’s American doctor character actually does the following in this film:
- Meets an obvious drug dealer at a bar and follows him into a bathroom stall thinking that the “white lady” the pusher keeps mentioning is his wife. Really?!
- When pressed, he samples the “white lady” and as soon as the dealer is out of sight, he runs to the sink and washes the coke out of his nose. This is 1988, mind you. The man is a doctor. A man with money. He has to have done the drug before, and therefore would know that a microscopic bump in a bathroom stall is not enough to completely wipe out his faculties.
- He pays for a gram of coke he has no interest in using, forgets he has it on him, and then goes to the airport. I get that his wife is missing, and he’s supposed to be “frantic,” but come on.
- Later, he snatches the gram of coke he paid 500 francs for, and throws it out of a moving car, because his companion, Seigner, tries to snort and drive. Again, as an adult male in the 80s and a medical professional, he would have know that one bump is not enough to get even a 98-lb sylph of a girl too wrecked to drive.
- While attempting to flee a crime scene, he sees a drunk couple in an apartment building stairwell in flagrant delicto, and what does he do? He runs away and hides. I know that a man wouldn’t want to be seen at the scene of a murder he didn’t commit, but I seriously doubt the two lovers would have noticed him. One of them had their entire face buried in the others privates, so… Yeah. The whole, “Zut allors! Look at ze Americain! ‘E iz a prude, non?” thing was driven home pretty handily there.
- When the cops, being French, refused to take the kidnapping-of-the-wife-by-Arabs story seriously, flat-out stating that she probably absconded with a lover in Paris, our hero flat out goes, “maybe you’re thinking of your own wife there!” Slick. Maybe he could have thrown in a “your mom” for good measure.
- HOWEVER, one moment where his buffoonery is eclipsed by sheer awesomeness is the one time he tries to act the badass. He goes about trying to intimidate a pair of crooked cops by emerging naked from the bedroom, clutching a giant teddy bear over his privates and screaming, “I AM AN AMERICAN AND I AM CRAZY!” and he gets a roundhouse kick to the face for his trouble. It’s a thing of beauty.
- Excruciatingly matronly American wife presented as a foil to the fashion-forward (for 1988), lithe, nimble little 20-something French sex kitten? Mmmm-hmm.
- Egregious overuse of that one Reggaeton Grace Jones song. Interestingly enough, this is not the first French movie to do this. Check out The Girl on the Bridge, marvel at the general loveliness, cringe as you’re forced to hear Marianne Faithful’s warbling “Who Will Take My Dreams Away” for the 411,890th time. Seriously French filmmakers, don’t be so cheap: pay for the rights to more than one song. You can establish theme and tone without beating your audience to death with your limited musical library.
Now for some Fun Facts, and more reasons to love Harrison Ford (in spite of the fact that he got his ear pierced at, like, 60. Seriously, he and Tony Bourdain should start a club): Harrison Ford thought that “Frantic” was a misleading title for the film as the script didn’t have a frantic pace. He suggested that “Moderately Disturbed” would be a more appropriate title. Roman Polanski wasn’t amused.
Now, this post is getting awfully long, but I will post more later with some more examples of Ford’s amazing, behind-the-scenes queen diva bitchery.