Saturday, May 12, 2018

Revolution (Hugh Hudson, 1985)

At its sporadic relative best, Hugh Hudson’s Revolution seems to aspire to becoming a work of pure texture and movement and evocation of time and place, prioritizing collective over individual experience; at such times it sometimes puts one in mind of the great and overlooked Peter Watkins. That’s not necessarily helpful to the film as it stands though – Watkins would surely have rejected the big-star casting and the narrative contrivances, and would have found his way to a far more probing kind of authenticity (among so much else, the film doesn’t have much sense of real labour, or of real pain), even while acknowledging its artifice. Obviously the film was largely shaped by more commercial considerations than that, but it’s still disappointing that the makers couldn’t have avoided the lame love story between the fur trapper who gets swept up by events (Al Pacino’s Tom Dobb) and the child of privilege who abandons her family for the sake of becoming a figurehead of the revolution (Nastassja Kinski); or the over-reliance on Dobb’s fierce love for his son as an all-consuming motivation and engine of personal transformation. The film presents the English as being grotesque either in their effeteness or else in their brutality, and invests heavily in the inherent moral superiority of the rebels, to the point of expunging any notion of exploitation of the indigenous people, or (I think) any reference to slavery: perhaps these simplifications can be interpreted partly as a function of one man’s subjective experience (and the film certainly emphasizes that Dobb is illiterate and under-informed) but they mainly seem hollow and calculating. Revolution does acknowledge in its closing scenes that the new regime may primarily come to represent new means of exploitation and misrepresentation, but that’s mainly for the purpose of stroking us with Dobb’s new awakening and articulacy (which then in rapid order meets its primary reward, that of getting the girl). The nature of the film’s failures is almost always interesting, but it seldom feels like a meaningful conversation with American history, nor with its present.

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