Half an hour into Patrick Lussier’s uneven but ultimately likeable neo-grindhouse pseudo-exploitation film Drive Angry, there is a scene that manages to perfectly encapsulate what it is about this film that makes it both intensely silly and surprisingly interesting. In this scene, Nicolas Cage’s character John Milton is having sex with a waitress he picked up in an Oklahoma roadhouse. As the naked woman groans in pleasure and writhes around on the end of his (presumably massive) penis, Cage’s character stares impassively into space from behind a large pair of wrap-around shades. Despite being in mid coitus, Milton is fully dressed and smoking a (noticeably massive) cigar. He also has a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand. When a bunch of Satanists come crashing through the door hoping to kill Cage’s character, Cage calmly scoops up the waitress and proceeds to shoot them all dead without either spilling his drink or pulling out of the waitress. Drive Angry is a film about humanity’s unquenchable desire for pleasure. It is not enough for these characters to have sex, they also have to smoke cigars and drink hard liquor while they are doing it. Nor is it enough for them to have exciting shoot-outs, they also have to have sex at the same time. Drive Angry is filled with characters that go to extraordinary lengths in order to satisfy their desires, but no matter how much fun, sex and excitement they have, there is always something more that needs doing.
One of the great tragedies of the cult of the director as author is the extent to which it failed to take root in television. Even now, if you listen to commentary tracks for BBC DVDs you will find people talking about writers and producers. Never directors. In the world of television, directors are still seen in the way that they were in the wider cinematic world prior to the rise of the French New Wave : As a cadre of technical and logistical professionals whose creative impact is actually minimal. Even television programmes that are ostensibly visual are frequently associated more with their presenters than their directors. David Attenborough, for example, has made a career out of taking credit for the images captured by others. Another such injustice is Jon Amiel’s direction of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective (1986). As director, Amiel transformed Potter’s ontologically complex blend of memory, reality and fantasy into a television series that was not only coherent but a classic. Sadly, the two and a bit decades since The Singing Detective have not been kind to Amiel with his time having been spent on a number of instantly forgettable television adaptations and second rate genre films. However, Creation, the story of Charles Darwin’s struggle to write On the Origin of Species (1859), marks a real return to form. It is just unfortunate that only half the film works.
When Hamlet says “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” he is not pre-empting the modern shift towards moral relativism. Instead he is reflecting on the capacity for human thought to render moral judgement almost completely inert. He is begging for ignorance. Cursing his intellectual nature. Wishing for simplicity. This anguished reaction against an intellectual temperament is central to Claude Chabrol’s Just Before Nightfall, a film that strives to answer the question ‘When is a murder not a murder?’.