Blog Directory CineVerse: "We do not wash our own just gets dirtier"

"We do not wash our own just gets dirtier"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

For further proof that the early 1970s was a fertile period for fresh and creative filmmaking that could conjure up credible stories for adults more firmly entrenched in the real world, consider Sidney Lumet's "Serpico," the 1973 biopic of an honest cop in a cesspool city. What makes "Serpico" so resonant and timeless, despite the passing of 45 years? Consider the evidence discussed during CineVerse yesterday:


  • This is the film that made Al Pacino a top-billed star. Consider that just prior to this, he appeared in The Godfather, but that was an ensemble cast headed by Marlon Brando. 
  • This story relies more on its lead character and his personality than the narrative. Hence, there is a lot of pressure on Pacino to deliver a stellar performance, which he does. 
  • The timing of this movie was opportune: note that the Watergate story was trending at the time Serpico was theatrically released; combine that with the public’s displeasure in our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War and are growing mistrust of government and it’s easy to see how Serpico – a film that explores governmental and bureaucratic corruption – would have been embraced by audiences. 
  • Think about how Frank Serpico – and this film – would have appealed equally to conservatives and liberals; he’s an honest cop trying to uphold law and order, yet he is also an idealist and agent for change, seems to be in tune with hippie culture, and expresses an artistic, philosophical and sensitive side. 
  • The character of Serpico also flies in the face of other police officers depicted on the big screen in the early 1970s, including Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, Buddy in the Seven-Ups, and other ultra-macho cops of that era. 
    • Pacino plays Serpico with more subtlety, calm and reserve than many of these other characters, which makes the scenes when he boils over with anger all the more memorable because they stand in contrast to the otherwise cool and collected character. 
  • This is based on a true story, and has been hailed as being fairly accurate and authentic to the person and events. In other words, this movie deserves props because the filmmakers could have played loose and fast with the facts, exaggerated Serpico’s character more, and take an artistic license by ratcheting up the violence, sex and action elements. 
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “1973 was a key year for cops and crime films of all stripes, with many interesting pictures portraying police and criminal activities using the gritty semi-docu look initiated by William Friedkin’s The French Connection… For a film that one would think the NYPD would never allowed to be made on the city streets, all the settings and precincts look 100% authentic, from the fingerprint and file rooms to the grungy bathrooms. The show has an enormous cast of real -looking faces.” 
    • Reviewer Sean Axmaker wrote: “It helped set the style of American crime dramas in the seventies with (its) gritty look at street-level law enforcement and realistic portrait of procedure and systemic failure and it established Lumet as a director of intelligent, gritty, modern crime dramas. Pacino earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Lumet was nominated for Best Director by the Director’s Guild of America. The two reunited for two years later for Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which continued to build on the dynamic sense of character and location and moral confusion first explored in Serpico.” 
  • “Serpico is awash in the grimy reds and browns that so defined the look of lower-budget genre projects from the Seventies. Arthur Ornitz’s cinematography, Charles Bailey’s production design, and Anna Hill Johnstone’s costumes capture the architecture of internal resistance. Pacino exists in their world, donning a beard that encapsulates a certain male aesthetic of the era,” wrote Village Voice critic Nicholas Forster 
  • The movie isn’t specific about place or time – we know that this is New York City, and we know that the real Frank Serpico became a cop in 1959 and was shot in 1971. But this picture resists giving us any definitive timestamps. We pick things up through context and visual cues to know that time has passed and roughly what era is depicted. Note, for examples, that there are no scenes of Serpico moving in his girlfriend, bringing home his new pet bird or mouse, meeting with the New York Times, etc. 
  • We get a good sense of the character’s loneliness and sequestration from his peers because the filmmakers often place him in wide shots that make him appear diminutive to his surroundings; these shots are contrasted with close-up images of other cops and detectives who seem to be “closing in” on Serpico and getting in his face. Viewers can feel the oppression with this tighter framing. 
  • Nice guys often finish last. Serpico loses virtually everything he has—his girlfriends, the respect and trust of his colleagues, his job and nearly his life. 
  • Bucking the establishment 
  • Pioneers and mavericks often pay the heaviest price. 
  • Thinking outside the box and daring to make an unpopular change. 
  • “Outsiders and rebels who were isolated by their principles and took outspoken stands against systems they saw as morally wrong and detrimental to society,” posited Rob Nixon of Turner Classic Movies online, who mentions other Lumet movies that bear this trademark: 12 Angry Men, Network, Prince of the City, and The Verdict. 
  • The French Connection 
  • McQ 
  • Prince of the City 
  • The Untouchables
  • Training Day 
  • The Departed 
  • 12 Angry Men 
  • Long Day’s Journey into Night 
  • The Pawnbroker 
  • Fail Safe 
  • Murder on the Orient Express 
  • Dog Day Afternoon 
  • Network 
  • The Verdict 
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

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