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Rewind: 1967 in Film – Point Blank

Never have footsteps done so much to revolutionize filmmaking as they have in Point Blank.

The film plays like an inversion of that old saying, “Trust the tale, not the teller.” Here, the tale doesn’t matter; it is a fairly straight adaptation of Richard Stark’s (née Donald Westlake’s) grimy pulp thriller The Hunter, which was itself a traditional noir thriller. To wit:

Parker is a hardened criminal. His partner steal his money and try to kill him. But as my man Quentin Tarantino sez, they should have tried harder, and so Parker embarks on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

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Enter director John Boorman. With what was just his second feature-length film, Boorman turns Point Blank into a deconstruction of the revenge narrative. He fractures the chronology, interrupting his protagonist (the great Lee Marvin, never better) on the hunt with flashbacks and flashforwards, some of which might not be real.

He directs in ultra-widescreen images that favor clean, sterile lines and architectural blocks – sometimes we feel like we’re watching a moving Rothko painting.And to further disorient us, he gives Marvin’s character an almost wraith-like presence: he could be an avenging angel, or maybe he never survived that bloody double-cross.

Kinda not surprised, considering how a) Boorman put sex symbol Sean Connery in a diaper for Zardoz and b) made The Exorcist II even though he hated the first movie, but still: at times, Point Blank feels like a genre-inflected remake of Last Year at Marienbad, of all things. It’s a puzzle movie, and one that defiantly resists any solution.

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Nowhere are the film’s postmodern aspirations clearer than when Marvin tracks his two-timing wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) to Los Angeles. We see Marvin striding through LAX, the blankness of his features contrasting sharply against his implacable, relentless forward momentum: Boorman mixes Marvin’s footsteps so that they sound only slightly less destructive than gunshots.

Those same percussive steps carry over on the soundtrack even as Boorman cuts to Acker preparing for her day, and the distinction between her sedate beauty-care routine and the violence of Marvin’s movements recalls the free-associative editing Nicolas Roeg perfected on his great Don’t Look Now.

And then (and then!) Boorman cuts back to Marvin, except he’s no longer walking, now he’s driving, only those damned footsteps continue to clap over the soundtrack, and we realize the sound is a countdown to some horrible reckoning. Sergio Leone would later mimic this effect in Once Upon a Time in America when he carried the sound of a ringing telephone through a opium-induced flashback/hallucination, but Boorman did it first, and this simple breakdown of the space-time correlation unnerves more than any simple act of bloodshed could.

It’s with a shock we learn Boorman has changed the character’s name from Parker to Walker. Of course he is. Even after the end credits roll, his footsteps ring in our ears.

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