November 17th, 2003

Conan the King (Conan the Barbarian)

Penn Pal



Although I had rented it two weeks ago, it was not until last night that I got around to watching the DVD of Arthur Penn's Little Big Man.

This was an interesting film, obviously made before Dustin Hoffman's stardom would cloud him (see Adventures In the Screen Trade by William Goldman for an account of some silliness regarding a flashlight during the shooting of Marathon Man); the character he plays, Jack Crabbe, is often ineffectual and often makes very stupid decisions.

Many times, he comes across as a coward, retreating from the more obvious (movie-hero) course of action. There is one sequence in which he attempts to stop a massacre, but is able to do little more than swat at an army officer.

Despite all this, Hoffman's investment in the part gives us a fairly well-rounded central character. Although the film's taglines often touted that the story he tells may be all lies (and there are some moments that strain credibility), the fact of the matter is that he does not always present himself in the best of light.

The film benefits from crisp Panavision photography by Harry Stradlin, which emphasizes the scope of the landscape in the sequences in which Crabbe is with the Native Americans and offers us a comparitively claustrophobic view of white "civilization." Editor Dede Allen also contributes her unique flair to the film.

I was somewhat disappointed with Dick Smith's make-up job on Hoffman, which looks identical to that created for David Bowie in The Hunger.


Dustin Hoffman's old age makeup in Little Big Man

David Bowie's old age makeup in The Hunger


Although I have quite a lot of respect for Dick Smith's makeup, I don't really find these jobs all that convincing. They do not mar the overall work, but they do have the effect of making me notice the makeup job rather than simply accept it. Smith has done better with aging makeup elsewhere (Amadeus, The Sunshine Boys and The Godfather, for example), and his creations for such films as The Exorcist and Altered States are the stuff of legend*.

While I felt that I didn't really get too much about the Native Americans, the film made for interesting drama (and occasional comedy). An interesting effect is that Hoffman and the other cast make it clear when they are speaking English and when they are speaking Cheyenne by their accents.

I probably would have appreciated this film a bit more had the attempt been made to speak the Cheyenne dialogue in the original tongue, but I know that this was not considered plausible until Kevin Costner did that with the Lakota dialect in Dances With Wolves.
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I found that my other favorite magazine has a website
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I just found out two things about the Alien Quadrilogy DVDs... the individual films will be available on January 6th, and apparently they will have DTS tracks!!! Yippee!!!
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*Despite my criticism of these particular effects, I find Dick Smith's work to be very interesting. People interested in the work of this artist are encouraged to visit his website, which is fascinating.
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