Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (John Frankenheimer, 1964, USA) The opening title sequence begins as a crude black mark, its thick clumsy scrawl nearly obliterating the beautifully cursive language of the United States Constitution. The White House fence becomes a row of missiles: is it shielding our country from total destruction…or leading us to our ultimate doom? These seven days in May will make one weak: can We The People inhale the mushroom cloud’s boiling fumes and exhale a choking ratification of the Fourth Reich? A coup-de-ta threatens to subvert the rock solid foundation of our democracy, the Rule Of Law reduced to vague words, deconstructed to a simple chain of letters…powerless, meaningless, until recreated by a merciful benefactor. The film begins with protestors rioting in front of the White House involving those who support General Scott and oppose President Lyman over the issue of an armistice with the Soviet Union. Director John Frankenheimer films in a close-up, documentary point-of-view style that creates a violent schism: a house divided against itself cannot stand. But one man believes He can unify the country once again, to bring about a prosperous and powerful nation: General Scott is that great American. Frankenheimer painstakingly details their political rhetoric through television monitors as we watch transfixed, like the fictional American audience, moved towards inaction because our Ubermensch will make things right: this is the power of the media. When general Scott pumps his fist and speaks of the Motherland, the ghost of Hitler haunts the Network airwaves. His office is also adorned with a huge globe, a subliminal reminder of Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR. But Colonel Casey confronts his friend and mentor and it’s this frisson that becomes metaphor: they both desire the same goal but only one will uphold a government by the people, for the people, of the people. Rod Serling’s taught script is top-heavy with dialogue and light on action without sacrificing too much suspense. Though the characters tell us what is happening Frankenheimer films these personal interactions in deep focus, giving us reaction shots and exposition in the same frame. He also places the characters in large echoing rooms, empty and devoid of public access…as if the citizens have become invisible and unimportant. Serling’s cinematic dialogue doesn’t pretend to be realistic; he writes like people think, he conveys ideologies in terse venomous phrases. Absolute power corrupts…and you must absolutely see this film. (B)

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