Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ridley Scott and The Duellists

    I just came back from seeing Ridley Scott's first film, The Duellists, which was made on a tiny budget in 1977 and still didn't make any money when it was released. It's based on a short story by Joseph Conrad which was in turn based off the real story of two Napoleanic officers who fought 30 duels against each other over 19 years. Here, Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) only fight about five or six duels, but this is more than enough to get the point across about the absurdity of honor and mindless agressivity. The whole affair is started when d'Hubert interrupts Feraud while he's with a lady to give him an unfavorable message. They then start a ridiculous feud that continues through Napolean's exile, return and re-exile . They duel on foot, on horseback, with small swords, with sabers, with and with pistols. At one point they are about to duel but have to work together to fight cossacks instead.

 things get even more complicated in the sequel

      If the plot's a little silly, that's part of the point, and it contributes to the charm of the movie. The Duellists has been compared to Barry Lyndon, but while it's a serious movie with a serious message it's certainly not as bleak. Carradine keeps things pretty light and d'Hubert's romances are given some importance; there are some nice scenes with him and his young wife, Adele. Apparently, everything in it is pretty much historically accurate. It certainly looks good; the French countryside is lush, the russian winter is bleak, and the sword fights are captured dynamically, with the camera moving along with d'Hubert or Feraud as they lunge forward and slash at each other.  It's less polished than Scott's subsequent historical epics which is often a good thing.


     And now I would like to show some appreciation for Ridley Scott, a director who knows how to tell a story. I just praised Lynch as knowing how to tell a story when he wants to, and I guess that this is something you can say for any good director, but I will say it nonetheless for Scott because that's a good part of what he has going for him. Scott creates tension, characters you can feel for, memorable stories, and even more memorable visuals. His two best movies Alien and Blade Runner are defining works of the Science Fiction genre. And though he seems to like returning to the historical epic, Scott is pretty versatile with any genre...or he at least tries; crime dramas, feminist road movies, romance, political thriller.... He seems like a tough guy who knows how to get stuff done; apparently he was hated by some on the Blade Runner set who vocalized their dissatisfaction in an incident known as the "T-shirt war" (they printed T-shirts with phrases like "yes gov'nor my ass" on them, referring to how they were supposed to respond to Scott's demands.) 
     And perhaps the best thing about Scott is that he isn't James Cameron. Scott may get sentimental, but his movies are never sappy or dumb. Some of his movies may try just as hard to be epic, but they aren't as bloated and ridiculous as something like Titanic or Avatar. Aliens may get praise, but all Cameron added that wasn't in the original was an extra layer of '80s cheesiness. 
     My final message is this: while it was good to see Scott's modest roots tonight, I have confidence that he'll keep turning out enjoyable Hollywood blockbusters for a while (although it is true that Blade Runner and Aliens are not the kind of Hollywood blockbuster that gets made anymore...but that's a different story).

I like making lists, but I've seen fewer than half of Scott's movies. 

1. Blade Runner-incredible.
2.Alien- excellent. great atmosphere.
3. The Duellists- take that Gladiator.
4. Gladiator- I give it credit for bringing back the sword and sandals tradition in Hollywood.
5. Thelma and Louise- actually had a pretty big impact on me. I saw it when I was quite young.
5. American Gangster- entertaining and well done.
6. Kingdom of Heaven- entertaining and well done.
7. A Good Year- not too bad. Amusing enough


  1. Your blog was outed! Is this why you're too busy to start a band with Julian?? ;) Great stuff, looking forward to reading more. - Hannah

  2. thank you! Unfortunately Julian has no room for other people for his avant-garde electro masturbations. I also just remembered that story about you, your nun friend, Jeremy, and The Straight Story...I should have put that in earlier!

  3. I would put Duellists at the top of the list and Blade Runner farther down.