Valley of the Gods

Josh Hartnett, Bérénice Marlohe and Keir Dullea

Valley of the Gods. What the hell was that? At around an hour in, Lech Majewski’s film starts to look like it’s developing a plot. But until then it’s been a series of scenes/scenarios/situations that don’t seem to be very connected at all.

In one we meet John (Josh Hartnett), a would-be writer trying to hash something out in the desert where the spirit of the Navajo are said to roam. In another a mute beggar on the street called Wes Tauros (John Malkovich), that rare thing – a beggar with a butler (Keir Dullea). Tauros is in fact not a beggar but the richest man in the world. In another a man called Tall Bitter Water, a spokesman for his fellow Native Americans anxious that his people come out at the right end of a deal currently being brokered by a company that wants to extract uranium from their land. And in another Karen Kitson (Bérénice Marlohe), a woman being sculpted into a facsimile of the rich man’s dead wife by a team of beauticians.

Things start to coalesce after the writer has a massive flame-out and winds up seeing a shrink (John Rhys-Davies), who suggests John start doing random things in an attempt to break his creative logjam. Which explains why John is next spotted bouldering out in the desert with all the pots and pans from his kitchen dangling beneath him on a rope. And why he is later walking blindfold backwards through a city street, where he narrowly escapes being knocked over by the same car as recently ran over the beggar/rich man, who is at this point sitting cross legged nearby and watching John’s progress.

John Malkovich
John Malkovich as the richest man in the world



John might have been called on to write Tauros’s biography, or what we’re watching might be the outpouring of his unblocked creativity, it isn’t really certain, but shots cutting back regularly to a furiously scribbling John out in the desert, shirtless, suggest something along those lines. The fact that Keir Dullea is in it, star of 2001: A Space Odyssey, immediately suggests Kubrick, and there is that definite detachment you get in a Kubrick film, though Majewski also has Paolo Sorrentino in his sights. This is a ravishing looking film with an operatic ambience, in other words, the cinematography (by Majewski and co-DP Pawel Tybora) making it worth a look alone.

Lovers of plot, forget it, this isn’t that sort of film. At one point a Rolls Royce Phantom V is launched into the night from a catapult made from drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci – that’s how rich Tauros is, and how rabid Majewski’s imagination.

For Malkovich all this sort of madcappery is business as usual, but for Hartnett it seems to be a dip back in the direction of oddball films like Lucky Number Slevin and I Come with the Rain which he started appearing in after deciding not to take the executive elevator to the Brad Pitt floor made available after the likes of actioner Black Hawk Down and romcom 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Majewski is a self-consciously arthouse director and everyone in this movie speaks in an arthouse movie way. Conversations never flow and consist mostly of non seqiturs. All apart from the Navajo, the only people who act and behave like rational human beings throughout. The land the uranium company wants to buy is called The Valley of the Gods, so it is their film, in a way.

“Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow,” quipped Noel Coward acidly when he saw the hot new talent on the set of 1965’s Bunny Lake Is Missing, but it’s Dullea who has the last laugh in this film. Almost. That privilege will probably go to the viewer who gets to the end, only to be confronted by a completely random shot of a giant baby stomping through the city and laying it waste. What the hell!





Valley of the Gods – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









2001: A Space Odyssey

Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

5 October

 

 

Steve Jobs dies, 2011

On this day in 2011, Steven Paul Jobs died in Palo Alto, California, aged 56, of metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Famously fired in 1985 from Apple, the company he had started along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, he went on to co-found Pixar, before being dramatically taken back by Apple in 1996, taking the company from near-bankruptcy back into profitability in two years. Jobs is often described as a visionary and regardless of whether you believe this was hype he had two insights which set him apart from his rivals. First, that the future of computing was not as a geek tool used by people who loved to code but as something which could be used intuitively. Second, that the computer could become the cornerstone of people’s lives if it was tied to leisure – games, music, movies. Jobs was also the first to understand that his company was perfectly placed to revolutionise the mobile phone market – not by producing a phone that did lots of other cool stuff (which is what everyone else was doing) but by producing a tiny but powerful computer which also made phone calls. Before Apple’s graphical user interface revolution (developed from work done by Xerox) of the early Macintoshes, computers relied on precise written commands, rather than point and click, or drag and drop. Before Apple’s launch of the iMac in a variety of candy colours, computers were beige and serious. Before iTunes and the iPhone – well, it’s almost like looking back into prehistory.

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir: Stanley Kubrick)

Telling no less of a story than the journey of humanity from the defining moment when it violently split from the apes to its subsequent eventual mutation into a mind at one with the cosmos, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi film certainly doesn’t lack ambition. “In space no one can hear you scream”, ran the tagline to Ridley Scott’s Alien, released 11 years later. But the thing about most films set out in space is that you can. Not in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 you can’t – spaceships move noiselessly through the vacuum of space, just one instance of the purpose and vision of Kubrick and writer Arthur C Clarke. Another is HAL 9000, surely the most famous and influential computer in screen history. HAL, soft of voice, veiled of intent, is on the American Film Institute’s list of film villains, coming in at number 13 between Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell) of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the Xenomorph (ie the Alien, played by Bolaji Badejo) in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Which isn’t bad considering he’s little more than a voiceover (by Douglas Rain). In fact it could be claimed that HAL is the most significant character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL certainly has more personality than the other contender, the astronaut Dr Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea – about whom Noel Coward had famously and cruelly quipped, “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow”), and even has an emotional character arc, going from being patronising, to wheedling, to pathetic (“Dave, stop. Stop, will you?”) in very short order. The sentient, malevolent computer has since become a meme, recurring in Logan’s Run, The Forbin Project, Alien, Terminator, The Matrix, Moon (in which Kevin Spacey’s voiceover of Sam Rockwell’s computer quite deliberately mimics HAL), and plenty more. And as we all spend increasing chunks of our lives stuck in front of screens, banging away at keyboards, it’s easy to understand why.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Along with Metropolis, the most important sci-fi film ever made
  • Douglas Trumbull’s revolutionary SFX – he’d go on to work on Close Encounters and Blade Runner. He turned down Star Wars
  • This is why some people believe Kubrick filmed the moon landing
  • The final “Stargate” sequence – a rite of passage at the time for any self-respecting user of psychoactive recreational drugs

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey – at Amazon