CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (6)

By: Lisa Jane Persky
August 6, 2019

One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974–1983).

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SORCERER | d. WILLIAM FRIEDKIN | 1977

Sorcerer, the film William Friedkin made in homage to Henri Clouzot and his Wages of Fear, is a matchless validation of the concept of karmic comeuppance. It’s a roller-coaster ride that skips the chain-lift to the peak because that’s where it starts. Then we lose the brakes and spend the rest of the movie plummeting towards a hole in the earth.

We’re witness to just enough of four discrete circumstances:

  • A lone gunman with a silencer kills an unarmed man in a hotel room.
  • A group of Palestinian terrorists bomb a bus outside the Damascus Gate.
  • An upwardly mobile Frenchman is told he’ll be arrested if he can’t pay a titanic debt.
  • A gang botches a robbery of a Catholic church’s money-laundering operation.

A guy — the guy — involved in each of these crimes — Nilo, Kassem, Victor, Jackie — winds up in hiding in the world’s most uninviting outpost: a village, somewhere in Latin America, dominated by an American oil company. We have no tender feelings for any of them.

In the midst of their odious bargaining and bribing of local police for their lives, new identities or soap, mercenaries blow the oil well, burning innocents and criminals alike, leaving the perpetual ball of fire one expects in Hell. Our lucky four, not yet fully integrated into the system, survive the explosion. The oil firm sends a company man to assess the degrees of damage and civil unrest. Determining the necessity of fighting fire with fire, he makes a trip to the corporation’s stash of dynamite, stored, for safety, in a deteriorating shed a jungle or two away. Equally poor conditions inside have left the sticks as unstable as the populace.

Who will agree to fly it by plane or helicopter? No one. So, for the love and fear of energy Imperialism, not to mention 8K pesos, every man in town auditions for one of four spots as nitro driver. All but one of our international criminals wins a seat in the two trucks. The fourth murders his competitor FTW. Now we’re picking up speed. The ensuing drive is filled with the dread and danger of transporting leaky nitro through godforsaken terrain in equally damnable juggernauts — subtly painted with the names Lazaro (for Lazarus) and Sorcerer. Tension and moisture ooze from the screen. The audience waits for the wheels to fall off.

There’s no CGI, no rear screen projection, no trick photography. This undeniably thrilling stuff is made better by an ominous soundtrack by Tangerine Dream that stands alone as a great example of ’70s electronic krautrock and the almost accidental casting of Scheider. He plays Jackie, a man with a boy’s name — which hints at how he’s wound up here. In the rare instance when the tidal wave of cynicism, betrayal and retribution recede we’re reminded that not everyone in these worlds deserve what they get. Friedkin provokes empathy with micro-doses of tenderness toward indigenous people and particular women. They’re thrown into the testosterone driven G-Force so we don’t forget the civilizing one. We’re made to care, but not too much. It’s unsentimental.

When you wrap the ride, take it again and think about what it must have been like to build. The Sorcerer is fate, and it catches up to you.

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CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION | Madeline Ashby on BLADE RUNNER | Erik Davis on BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | Mimi Lipson on CONVOY | Luc Sante on BLACK SUNDAY | Josh Glenn on THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR | Lisa Jane Persky on SORCERER | Devin McKinney on THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | Adam McGovern on QUINTET | Mandy Keifetz on DEATH RACE 2000 | Peter Doyle on SOUTHERN COMFORT | Jonathan Lethem on STRAIGHT TIME | Heather Kapplow on THE KILLER ELITE | Tom Nealon on EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | Mark Kingwell on THE EIGER SANCTION | Sherri Wasserman on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK | Gordon Dahlquist on MARATHON MAN | David Levine on PARALLAX VIEW | Matthew Sharpe on ROLLERBALL | Ramona Lyons on ALIEN | Dan Piepenbring on WHITE LINE FEVER | Marc Weidenbaum on THIEF | Carolyn Kellogg on MAD MAX | Carlo Rotella on KUNG FU | Peggy Nelson on SMOKEY & THE BANDIT | Brian Berger on FRIDAY FOSTER.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

What do you think?

  1. For the longest time, Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” was top on my Bluray wishlist, as the overlooked and underappreciated masterpiece languished in near litigation and logistical hell. It felt a somehow fitting fate for a film born out of strife and into struggle. When the film was released in 1977, none of my friends could figure out what the title meant and had no wish to see it. The otherworldly soundtrack, which also included work by Keith Jarret, the cinematography, the claustrophobic, vertiginous, heart-stopping physicality of the film, was so transcendent that all these years later I still wonder if there weren’t something supernatural to that title. I recall today the film being squeezed and all but squashed between “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I couldn’t get anyone to take the chance and spend the time to see it, so no less than three times, I watched it, all but alone in a nearly empty theater. It is a strange and daring film, seemingly starting 4 separate times with opening vignettes compelling enough to hold interest only to have the narrative hijacked for a fifth and finally ominous start in the jungles of Central America, in all that desperate, exhausting, heat, rain, mud and darkness. But Friedkin never lost faith and the film endures and can share equal space and standing with Clouzot’s “Wages of Fear”. It remains a personal favorite. It has notes of Keaton, Welles, Herzog, Huston and Frankenheimer. And of course, Friedkin. This post makes me want to go and get a copy of Peckinpah’s “Cross of Iron” which similarly came, was denegrated and sent packing back then, faster than I could see it.

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