film note: Deliverance

This pastoral gothic survival thriller has lost a lot of its power since 1972, because of the parodies and the horror sub-genre it spawned, and well, because it's so obviously an emasculation fantasy. The action sequences are the least successful to watch twenty years after the first time I saw it, but it's still creepy and weird and beautiful.

Deliverance
Directed by John Boorman
1h 49min, USA, 1972

This pastoral gothic survival thriller has lost a lot of its power since 1972, because of the parodies and the horror sub-genre it spawned, and well, because it’s so obviously an emasculation fantasy. The action sequences are the least successful to watch twenty years after the first time I saw it, but it’s still creepy and weird and beautiful.

It’s also cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond’s best and most suggestive work, with its forest-after-the-rain color palette and widescreen riverscape compositions and especially an understanding of the power of close-ups — that sheriff leaning into the car during the film’s last five minutes and clicking his back-teeth. I would have loved to watch Zsigmond shoot the confrontation between Jon Voight and the Toothless Man that takes place on a cliff over the river. The setup (It’s just after the credits: a 2-minute 14-second wide shot consisting of a static shot, a pan and a quick dolly back, encompassing all the characters, their personalities and how like arrogant fish-out-of-water they are.) and wind-down sequences really are my favorites, particularly the taxi ride through the soon-to-be-underwater town, as they follow a Church of Christ on wheels. Amazing.

Having said that, both he and director John Boorman seem a little clueless about the flaming subtext in James Dickey’s book, or maybe they weren’t because the script removes most of it, and almost all of the envy/admiration and macho tension between the 4 friends who take the canoe trip is gone, too. All that’s left is Burt Reynolds’ biceps, hairy chest and forearms and Voight’s pretty, suffering face. And lips, remember?


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Oh, and that rape scene. Ned Beatty with his ass up in the air, facedown in the leaves and his underwear around his ankles — who could forget that?

See? Weird.



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