Tuesday, May 31, 2011

THAS: Scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 #2

For some reason or other, it's easy to miss the fact that the opening sequence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a perfect movement. The first half of this consists of college devils' day-lit revelry, and the day-set run-ins between them and innocent radio programs and unsuspecting country pickups. As this half ends, as we watch the roadster glint its rabble-rousing into further and further expanse of unrestricted country road, the second half shifts focus to following the radio station into their evening airtime, while the country wagon of rear emblazoned with American flag returns for its revenge. Both halves depict the confluence of the three parties - leisure transmuting into belligerence transmuting into battle, caught on the hapless disc jockey's apolitical-by-commission airwaves - and does so without fat, the sequences stacking one atop the other like a sturdy structure.

In general, it is unfortunate Hooper's films always fall short of their uniform aspirant potential, for what I gather is he loves and demands dramatic construction in his films (here, a frivolous radio show getting bombarded by impromptu call-to-actions), and, so necessitating, allows it to seep subtly and genuinely into his formally delicate sequence-crafting. It is particularly apparent in his "slasher films," which often have Hooper defensively striving for plot devices that elevate the material past being body-count films (e.g. Toolbox Muders's weak mystery pretenses, The Mangler's dopey class-conscious drama, etc.). TCM 2, ironically (being a campy sequel), probably has the most promise of his entire filmography - its having serious dramatic writer L.M. Kit Carson contributing his wealth of idea, erudition, and rich dramatic scenarios to a slasher sequel. Hooper must have certainly known the boon he had come upon, and Carson's capabilities do faintly bubble beneath the resulting film's goopy, unfocused outer layer (just like Spontaneous Combustion, and I suppose most of Hooper's films: the vestiges of fine dramatic construction lay beneath an unfortunate goop of non-control on top).

But that outer haplessness does not cancel out Hooper's refined, very controlled moment-by-moment efforts, and this is all present in this introductory overture (to keep with the musical analogy) of TCM 2, rendering in a unified - and, as it turns out, heavily musically-accompanied - sequence the subtle symbiosis of jerkosity, bellicosity, and the reluctant combatant; joyriding chumps' idleness only sated by the vindication of hunt, the hunt becoming indiscernible from idle vindication (the revenging truck being driven by heirs of the chump meat business), and then what's left: the non-idleness of a witness (Stretch and her fateful tape-recording) effectively becoming the last vestige of responsibility in the film's chicken-playing, dog-eat-dog, in many respects shame-lacking world.

#2 - Composition - "Shame on you."


Part I - The Joyriders
"Shame... /
Shame shame."


"Shame on you."
(A sign of dynamic directing: a cut matched to a precise action -
here, the joke glasses-wearing kid popping out of the window.)

A Symphony of Signs
A graceful musical idea, a melodic and rhythmic fragment - I'll call it "the Roadside motif": repeated dolly pull-ins towards billboards defaced, singing its phrasal vision of bellicosity piled on top bellicosity.

----R----e---------f----i----g----h----t-------------- B----A----T----T----L----E--------O----F------

S----A----N--------J----A----C----I----N----T----O

----------D--------------A--------------L--------------L--------------A--------------S


R------E------M------E------M------B------E------R--------------------B--a---t---t---l---e----o-f--------------------
T------H------E------------A------L------A------M------O

(The harshest treatment is saved for the most iconic
bearer of amoral history, the Battle of the Alamo.)

Car Shot A

"Red River Rock 'n Roll Request Line, this is Stretch."

Car Shot B

The following shot's beautiful floating camera goes without saying. The way it dances along with Caroline Williams's swivels of movement as she deejays probably ought to be mentioned. How this joyous shot below of tune-spinning made aesthetical immediately follows Car Shot B above - an anti-joyous portrait of our two douchebags in contempt-filled repose - is the subtlety to point out, though, as the montage Hooper is enacting here (which is entirely in Hooper tradition: montage that is completely linear temporally... space made traversable, without discontinuities of time, by the magic of radio transmission...) strikingly, actively intimates the fission and soon-to-be-seen loggerheads between these two sections of people.

"This is Stretch, on an open request line on K-OKLA in Burkburnett, Texas, Red River Rock & Roll...


... from the tip top of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex."

(Return shot to car is a repeat of Car Shot A,
and the ensuing car shots are exchanging
medium close-ups of the two college kids.
[Being not of a particular notability, I will not
present them, but will merely mention them.])

(A new angle and a new character are introduced
in this following shot, L.G. introduced gracefully
as simply an element in the background.
)

(AA - looking down;

look at L.G.;
picking up of phone)

(Car shots: 1 "And Rick the Prick!"
2 "From all the senior-
boys...

... while you're on the
road to nowhere... ")

"Oh! You mean 'we're on the Road to Nowhere'?":
(The innocence of Stretch's reply, at this point unaware of the caller's
intentions and disregard, is matched with a one-off shot of her through 
the clear booth glass, intimation of that very "breakable-as-glass" innocence,
and our, the viewer's, clear, concerned sight of it.)
(BB)

(Car shots: 1 "No, baby,
we're on the
road to]]]]]]
Texas-OU\\
Weekend in
Dallas!"\\\\
2 "Hook 'em
Horns!")
"Real funny, guys. OK, you wanna hang up now?"

(CC - L.G. looks up at Stretch
through the glass)


(Car shots: 1 "No way baby!")


(DD - Stretch looks at L.G.

notices his noticing)


(Car shots: 1 "Hey check out
Farmer boy.")

(At this point there takes place the game of
chicken between the college kids and the
Sawyer truck, all foreboding due to tinted
windows and Hooper's distant wide shots:
)

In the middle of the chicken game is the following shot, bringing back Stretch-through-the-glass and bringing in with her L.G., the skilled, blue-collar abetter of maintaining her precious place protected from outside menaces and nuisances:
(EE)
This shot above, (EE), is a punctuational stroke being made, plopped in the middle of the sequence's high point of action [the chicken game]: it's a sudden mannerist painting, with collapsed perspective now including both Stretch and L.G. in arrangement, the latter whose incomplete arm stretches out in scale-skewing proportion. Acting much like this shot in Poltergeist, the arm is another hanging wreath of ambiguous activity, and its placement is in tableau - its only purpose being the pose, the placement, the wish to pictorially allegorize the emotional event taking place, as such was the modus operandi of mannerist painters.

(Car shots: 1 "That was great! Great!"
2 "You got that, babe?\---
Hot ride?")

Hooper's sequences often achieve their symphonic (or operatic, as he himself puts it) quality because of the high sense of flow that occurs between his never-arbitrary, never-extraneous or superfluous, always-and-completely interlocking or building shots.

The following dynamic shot is one-of-a-kind in this sequence, and it is built to and fitted in brilliantly: a shot that first focuses on Stretch's own ineffective, unknowledgeable attempt to cut off her prank callers by randomly unplugging cables, then goes for a remarkable quick pan up to her face, animatedly encapsulating her fluster as she gives up with the cables and retreats back to what she can really only do, which is confront her harassers verbally (all this encapsulating one of the character's main arcs: a young woman who embodies much about the frivolous, but longs to reject that and gain feelings of usefulness).

"Yeah, later, sports! Just hang it up, okay?"
(FF) *
* The shots I've labeled AA through FF are all the return shots to the
radio station. Notice how each return carries a particular and==---
singular purpose, whether a variance of the shot (BB and EE) or==
the same shot (AA, CC, DD) but paired with a particular crisp==---
gesture or set of gestures (as noted next to the labels).|==| ====|

Another one-of-a-kind shot, saved for a moment in which its occurrence would prove the most musical: the Mercedes from its rear, swerving recklessly right to left.

(Car shots: 1 The boys yipping and yawing.)

Before Part I's proper denouement, we have this little exchange between Stretch and L.G., playing out in more prosaic shot-reverse shot (although the tightening frame used is rather lovely, the reflection of the facing character seen in the glass dividing them):

(In Princess Stretch mode) "L.G.!"

"I'm trying, darlin'!"
===|===|
"Don't call me darling."

===|===|

And the denouement: the tightest shot of boy and his gun (and his maniacal goofy eyes) yet...

... and a bookending return to the sequence's Roadside Motif, this time another variation on it (like the prior Dallas sign), as it glides past the sign and sends itself off with the last carefree moment, it turns out, we have with the boys.


Part II - The Witnesses

"And when the sun goes down and the moon comes up..."
"... I turn into a teenage Goo-Goo Muck."


As this second part begins, it finally divulges the correctness of our suspicions that the radio station is our primary home and where our protagonist(s) reside, and that it's certainly not the generic youngsters Buzz and Rick swilling beers behind the wheel. Accompanied by the beginning of The Cramps's "Goo Goo Muck," we are shown the station's edifice and two cars... the aestheticization of carefree music radio continues in full force as the edifice lights up in the night, and another self-evident beauty of a shot follows:

(Technician at work in the forefront as our female DJ jives decadently
in the background. Focus pulls once the camera begins its carefully,\-
gently delayed movement.)=-==|===|===|===|===|===|===|===|




And we cut to this beauty:
"I know no one's listening because y'all are zooming...

And a fourth wall break...
"... but I got a shot of hot rock 'n roll for ya anyway."

... cues us in on just who the film's killer 80s soundtrack is for.

What follows is the kill sequence of the two boys set to Oingo Boingo's "No One Lives Forever" set on the bridge that never ends. The cut-overs to Stretch and L.G. frantic at the radio station follow the same tenets of crisp construction as that I've covered earlier in the sequence, while the car attack's money-maker effectiveness I'm sure is adequately apparent to the world at large already.

Some favorite parts of this segment:


(1) "L.G., get in here!"

And so - Hooper choosing to present L.G.'s "getting in here" with only his back (while letting Williams's face retain the frame) - we see L.G. lumber in like a big puppy and begin his faceless work with unquestioning obedience.


(2) The Geek


(3) An assortment of angles on Stretch and L.G. peppered throughout the frenzy:

(4) The Performances

"Hey, hang up. Hang up hang up hang up hang up hang up!" It's somewhat funny, at first, but the more time you spend with that moment, you slowly begin to realize Caroline Williams totally encapsulates the temptation and desires to turn a blind eye with an alarming, self-reflecting abandon.

(5) The Flipping Bridge Shot
Hooper isn't totally incapable as a technically-indulged, sugar-rushing visual savant ala Spielberg - this nifty graphical, functional display of the physical extent of the bridge and the speed of the chase is the type of smart, slick, flashy communication of narrative stakes looked for in cutting edge cinematic savvy. (For my money, I'll take his poetic dolly shots [and other
anti-functional tics], personally...)

Towards the camera the chariots rush:

Then away, as the camera flips 180:


5 comments:

Rodney said...

I must say that TCM 2 was my nightmare as a kid. I must have seen it due to my parents' friends' older daughters as well as my childhood best friend's older brother. Part of what struck me with terror was the beginning and the shot setups of the yuppies on the road. I suppose there is nothing greater than having the fear of Leatherface and Choptop chasing you..at least for me as a kid until I turned into an adult.

JR said...

There is something unsettling about knowing these kids are doomed to die alone on empty road. The elaborate car chase murder is so appropriate because they die in the same place they started: in their car, still driving endlessly towards Dallas.

I'm obliged to go into the bridge scene now, and it's terrible effectiveness! Seeing that the Sawyer brothers have tracked them down and will proceed to act relentlessly is one thing, but the sight of a weathered corpse climbing atop the truck and taunting these kids to the lyrics "No one lives forever" really carries a special, poetic cruelty. I remember being struck by my own feelings of terror when I first watched it!

Chip Butty said...

TCM 2 was the first Hooper film I ever saw, even before part 1, and I vividly remember watching these first few minutes and being sucked into the film's world by the opening narration and the way the music quickly segues from Hooper's gothic synth opera score to nearly half the official soundtrack artists in just the first ten minutes.

I remember being struck by those rolling green hills of Texas and that feeling of open road lawlessness, before Leatherface does a pickup drive-by with his power tool and gives the gorehounds an early fix to last the rest of the otherwise bloodless brilliant first act.

Do you think Stretch working at the radio station might have been a simple way of incorporating the pop soundtrack? Maybe it was Cannon's suggestion. It's every bit as eclectic and well chosen and cleverly integrated into the scenes of the film as Return of the Living Dead. The only significant difference is that the soundtrack takes a bow for a while once she gets chased out of the station and into Texas Battleland - of which the sneaky inclusion of a roadsign is a deft touch.

Rodney said...

The bridge scene is one of the things that warped and frightened me as a kid. The Oingo Boingo lunacy certainly helped. Even Lefty pulling back the dismebodied door post crash and seeing the gunner's joke glasses got to me.

The soundtrack is awesome as well (Lords of the New Church and the Cramps especially). Chip is right about the soundtrack as this and ROTLD are definitely the best 80's soundtracks to horror. And the repetitive soundtrack does offer a different feel after going into the abyss of the abandoned amusement park.

JR said...

Glad this comment section could be a sort of halfway house for TCM 2 trauma!

Could've been a Cannon/producer suggestion (the deejaying/popular artists soundtrack), though I'm sure no one here's doubting Carson really knew how to take the idea and run with it. It's perfectly in keep with the film's luxuriating - commoditizing - ethos.