Friday, 8 July 2016

Revolution (1985)

First up, I have to share this photograph. The local newspaper, St Helens Star, shared a host of photos capturing the town in the 1980s.

This one, taken in 1986, shows the very first video club my family belonged to and its prominent display for Revolution; though it's the display for Jackie Chan film The Protector which seems to capture the eye of a bloke with his foot in plaster!

So what of Revolution itself? Well it's wank isn't it? I know that in recent years, and following the release of a Director's Cut, there have been calls for this to be reappraised (most notably from the late Philip French, who called it "profound, poetic and original… among the great movies about the experience of individual citizens living in times of dramatic social change") but I'm afraid to say I can't get behind them. I haven't seen the Director's Cut, the version I saw was the original release, but I can't see how shaving a few scenes off the film and adding a voice over can salvage this. There's no denying this was, is and always will be a deeply flawed production. The UK's answer to Heaven's Gate, Revolution cost $28m to make and grossed a total of $358,574 on its US release, making it the UK's biggest ever box office flop. It sunk Goldcrest Films, almost decimated the British film industry as a whole, saw Al Pacino take a four year break from acting and consigned the previously celebrated Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson's career to the doldrums. 

A seriously miscast Pacino (Comic Strip Presents The Strike would lampoon this period Pacino mercilessly depicting him, as played by Peter Richardson, starring as Arthur Scargill in a Hollywood retelling of the 1984/'85 Miner's Strike) stars, mangled curious accent and all, as fur trapper Tom Dobb who is press-ganged into fighting for America's independence against the British along with his son Ned, EastEnders Ricky Butcher (who, in turn, grows up to be Dexter Fletcher - no, I'm not making this up!) in 18th century New York (actually the town of King's Lynn in Norfolk) Throughout the war, their fates seem entwined with that of Nastassja Kinski, an aristocratic young woman whose conscience sees her side with the revolutionaries, and Donald Sutherland's sadistic British sergeant. If you think Pacino is bad here, look at Sutherland; displaying an appalling attempt at a Yorkshire accent, and wearing a prosthetic hairy mole that frankly out-acts him at every turn, he's more like a Vic Reeves character in a sketch than a creditable character in a supposedly proper film. It's a cringeworthy poor show from Sutherland though, in fairness, the character is little more than a cartoon villain anyway; devoid of any motivation or insight held within the script, save for a last minute attempt at mirroring both him and his son (Jesse Birdsall of Eldorado fame) with Pacino and Dexter Fletcher. You'll also see Crystal Maze and Rocky Horror Picture Show star Richard O'Brien as a panto villain of an English aristo that Mel Gibson surely approved of, and Annie Lennox, in her acting debut, encouraging people to sign up and fight for America in an embarrassing and wooden manner that would embarrass even the very worst Am Dram performer.

Revolution is a painful, muddled and often unintentionally hilarious would-be epic with little shape or hold on the events it wishes to depict. Hudson is on record as claiming Terence Mallick's elliptical storytelling as an influence, but frankly that's a cop-out excuse for a mismatched, poorly delivered narrative. It's not helped that, as Time Out said upon its release; "It's also the first 70 mm movie that looks as if it was shot hand-held on 16 mm and blown up for the big screen" The Telegraph's Tim Robey claimed on the release of the Director's Cut that this was an "ahead-of-its-time hand-held photography by Bernard Lutic" arguing it to be one of the most praiseworthy aspects of the film but frankly, he's wrong; Stephen Frears and Alan Clarke had been doing much in the field of hand-held cinematography and steadicam in the years leading up to this. If I personally had to praise one thing about Revolution, it would be Assheton Gorton's production design, from which Hudson's artistic vision occasionally meets to produce something interesting to look at.

In the Telegraph piece, Robey wonders if the real reason for the harsh criticism Revolution received was because the film steadfastly refused to depict the War of Independence in a mythologised light, preferring instead to tell its tale in a more authentic, bleak and grim tone at odds with both the traditional take and the Reaganite era it was released in. It's certainly interesting to consider (indeed, I still maintain much of the scorn poured on Heaven's Gate is to do with the fact that that particular film shed light on a moment in time that America should rightly feel guilty of) but I think it's being a little too kind to this turkey. There's more currency in the notion that the film simply wasn't ready, as Hudson was effectively not allowed to finish it (or even finish it the way he wanted; the bleak tone of how those who fought for America's independence were not properly recompensed as promised is swiftly neutered by the studio's insistence that Kinski's character be brought back from the dead to give Pacino a happy ending) and was subsequently forced to rush the shoot and editing process so that it could be released on Christmas Day, 1985 for the best possible box office results. But even taking that problem into consideration it's hard to see how Revolution would ever be anything other than a miss-fire.

And I thought Hudson's previous film, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, was poor!


  1. Did you spot Kate Hardie in this Mark ? She's in the credits as "Carrie" but I couldn't find her.

    1. I think she's a victim of the cutting room floor (same as Frank Windsor's turn as George Washington) That said, I do think the girl on the second wagon that comes into the fort to deliver supplies, when Kinski's character is reunited with Pacino and Dexter Fletcher, looks like her - but it's a very brief scene so it's hard to tell.