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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fathom Events has done it again, bringing a film classic back to theaters for older fans to enjoy again and new generations to experience on the big screen for the first time.  Although I’d seen the 1968 action thriller Bullitt dozens of times, this was my first viewing on the big screen.  It’s no exaggeration that the ten-minute chase scene the film is known so well for becomes a roller coaster ride in the theater.  I must confess–maybe it was the tint on my own television, or because of the posters showed the Bullitt 1968 Ford Mustang in black, but I never noticed how bright green it was before–the car is unmistakably a vivid green (technically “Dark Highland Green”) when viewed on a 30-foot instead of a 2-feet-high screen–literally an eye-opening difference.

As expected my favorite scenes stood out–Steve McQueen‘s mannerisms in every scene as Frank Bullitt establish that of what was likely the average, real police officer in 1968, far from the angry, distant San Francisco cop Clint Eastwood would make famous three years later.  Bullitt was friendly, considerate, compassionate, even sensitive toward those strangers of San Francisco he encounters throughout the film, like the doctor being bad-mouthed by Robert Vaughn‘s Senator Chalmers not quite out of hearing range, like Bullitt as grateful to a night nurse who brings him a meal in the hospital hallway, when he tips the cabbie played by a young Robert Duvall, and as he hangs out and makes eyes with his girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) at what was probably an actual, trendy Haight-Ashbury jazz club.  McQueen is seen waking up, buying groceries, buying a paper–normal life scenes spliced into an action movie with the best-ever car chase.

I’m not sure opening credits were ever carried out as in Bullitt either before or since, with the letters of the credits smoothly coming at the audience almost in 3D, converting into an unusual transition into the next camera shot (backed by a jazzy opening theme).  Yes, that opening is even more effective in the theater, and it ties into director Peter Yates and cinematographer William A. Fraker‘s nearly comic book-inspired camera angles found throughout the movie.  A shot upward from the passenger side of the pursued hitmen’s car.  Two shots where the cameraman looks like he was taken out by the racing classic cars (the Charger actually hit the camera in one edited sequence).  The first-person driver’s seat view of so many modern video games.  Several scenes also fade to and from reflections in windows, blurred crowds from behind planters, like from an Edward Hopper painting.  Do you need a reference for late 1960s clothing?  Yates loiters a bit on several crowd and restaurant scenes where the audience can examine styles from all social classes.  Best of all?  The thousands of classic cars and trucks from the 1960s, 1950s, and 1940s.  Every scene incorporates beautiful imagery as a preserved photo album of the best vintage cars to the left or right of the center of action.

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You’ll believe a car can fly.

Before there was a Fast and the Furious series, before Baby Driver, before Clint was Dirty Harry, before Smokey met the Bandit, or before Max ever got mad, there was Steve McQueen in Bullitt You may try but you’re unlikely to conjure up a film that defines cool more than McQueen does as a San Francisco cop trying to protect a witness in a major case.  For 50 years the Oscar-winning car chase (from editor Frank B. Keller) has topped best action scene lists from film critics and everyone else.  Robert Vaughn was hardly better than as the demanding Senator Chalmers.

The music of the great Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Starsky and Hutch, Planet of the Apes) perfectly encapsulates the era, complete with a jazz flute interlude.  There’s a reason Hollywood kept returning to Schifrin for action movie scores, like Kelly’s Heroes, Enter the Dragon, Brubaker, Charley Varrick, Cool Hand Luke, THX 1138, and the Dirty Harry and Rush Hour movies–the music is that memorable.  We are lucky to have a dozen great Steve McQueen movies to re-visit, and this is one of the best.  Plus you can only look to James Bond movies for an opening credits montage as cool as you’ll find in Bullitt.

You have two more chances to see Bullitt in the theater for its 50th anniversary re-release.  And that’s today, October 9, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time.  Get tickets now and check theaters availability at the Fathom Events website, www.FathomEvents.com.

Don’t miss it!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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