Wages of Fear

Last night I was determined to see a movie, in a theater, on a big screen, for under ten dollars. I even, for some unknown reason, really wanted to see actual film. And I'm not normally a film purist by any means but, last night, I felt like hearing the whir of the projector and seeing the grainy-ness of the print as the light cascades across the aisle. I wanted the warm, familiar comfort in a movie going experience. For awhile now I've been inhabiting places where it is slightly difficult to see film on film, and quality film for that matter, but last night, and with proficient and dedicated internet research, I somehow unearthed a local college's Film Society (The Keene State College Film Society) screening series up here in Vermont just over the border in New Hampshire! After arguing with a friend, who both used to work at this college and who prides herself on being "in the know" on these types of things, it was determined that no one had ever heard of the Putnam Theater at the Redfern Arts Center on Keene College Campus but that didn't stop me as I drove the forty minutes on crazy high speed mountain roads to join an audience of less than ten people scattered about the lecture hall-esque theater this warm and rainy Fall New England Saturday night.

The film I saw was a new film print from the recent Criterion HD restoration of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear. How have I never seen this film? When I was a kid, not even a teenager, one of my parents made me watch Les Diaboliques for some reason (a film Clouzot plucked from the hands of Hitchcock!). I remember it being a weird thing because normally I was sheltered from the morbid or odd on the film scale but I am thinking my French grandma, or my dad's love of strange b&w horror, had something to do with this? I don't remember the details of that film but I definitely remember the haunting feeling it left...a tense mystery but somehow so subdued in it's delivery! Clouzot is the master of strategic cuts, expertly devised sound design, amazing acting, ingenious & simple plot devices making for edge of your seat films but catching you off guard in their subtlety and building anticipation. Wages of Fear began with a nearly plodding exposition that at first seems mildly boring but is really part of the larger mastermind directorial plan- slowing you down, easing the audience into mild understandings of characters, situations and surfaces that will all be blown up to their fullest in the second half of the film (I am telling you this so you don't turn it off halfway through!).

Even though the film was made in 1953 the story of a group of down-on-their-luck European men in South America transporting nitroglycerine by truck to help an American oil company put out an oil fire resonates all too well with contemporary issues. The political implications imbued in this film were huge but done so with a light, careful hand (A scene of jungle natives looking on as they wander into an oil field. A quick mention of the atrocities of man brought on by WWII.) It really is a shame how these existential issues regarding War and oil are still so heavily rooted in our world today, nearly fifty years after the making of this film! Also interesting given the fact that Clouzot was tried for working with the Germans during WWII, garnering a life sentence ban on making films, a ban that was lifted in under two years after much support from other artists. I don't know what his involvement was but the undercurrents of ruling power fear and the loss that it brings amongst the unfortunate that lay within Wages of Fear makes me recognize that Clouzot did think long and hard about whatever his involvement had been, creating a masterpiece/warning of political filmmaking with this work. On top of all of that, the film is gorgeous! The sound (I'm assuming it's restored?) made a hi-wire atmosphere unlike any other use of sound I have ever experienced (ticking, creaking, edgy, rhythmic) adding to the engulfing tension, the images were lush and reflective in such a range of black & white, the texture and shot composition were so careful and thoughtful, the editing made every moment count and every inch of the film built up such suspense I even found myself biting my fingernails at one moment! The detail put into this film is a rarity nowadays...a must see for anyone who loves the craft and the art of filmmaking!

So, if you live near a college, any college with a film program or class, see if they have a film screening series! My years working the projector and taking the tickets during my own college years, and my desire to see film, made me seek out and support this type of organization, a thing that all communities should really try to do! College/academia are one of the resources- often with funding & a strong infrastructure- out there looking to support something original, to preserve and embrace the film canon, while also adding to it a new history. On that note, a few Brent Green live shows (featuring me on foley and Mike McGinley & Tim Rutili of Califone fame on an assortment of instruments!) are coming up for those of you scattered across Southern California- the first taking place October 3rd at Cal State San Marcos, then we're heading over to the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum the next night, and, possibly, another show in the Santa Ana area at UC Fullerton on the 5th (if an unflooded venue presents itself, anyone?)...! Hope you can make it out to support the films and the organizations bringing huge ideas to big screens in tiny towns (often for a low price!) all over the place! Now...go watch Wages of Fear!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.