Tuesday, October 13, 2009


(1940 (uncomfirmed) - ?)

The ultimate one-shot deal, the hit-and-run man, Maloney more or less came out of nowhere , made a single shining, unique masterpiece, and disappeared, never to be heard from again.
No confirmed pictures of him exist, and descriptions of his background vary depending upon who you ask.
According to Angie Dickinson, he was

“A mousey little guy, dark haired and quiet. You could barely hear him when he spoke to you, you always had to lean in close. But he had a way. When he told you how he wanted a scene, you knew it was the right way, you trusted he knew what he was doing. He had a vision. You can see that in the film. He knew exactly how he wanted everything…”

Maloney – almost certainly not his real name – appeared in Hollywood in the late 60s, where he apparently did some script work for Robert Brandon on projects which never reached the screen. He was shopping around a spec script, however, which quickly became semi-legendary for its unusual quality and daring.
Many studios wanted it, but Maloney, a virtual unknown with no track record or reputation within the industry to speak of, refused to sell until he was granted two conditions: he wanted to direct, and he wanted final cut.

Finally, faced with the baffling vagaries of the motion picture business during a counter-cultural revolution of sorts, in a period when a low-budget film like Easy Rider could be a smash hit while a Megalith like Doctor Dolittle could flop so absolutely, a studio buckled. 20th Century Fox put up a small amount of money and decided just to see where this would lead. In the late 60s, William Goldman’s “Nobody Knows Anything” had never been more true. Maloney’s timing could not have been better and so he found his script in production, and himself directing.
That script was entitled “Blood Journal” and it followed a few weeks in the life of everyman Frank Clark. In the script, and indeed the film, Clark goes to work at a bank, returns home to his pretty wife and sweet children, walks his dog, goes bowling and drinking with his buddies, visits his parents with his family, makes love to his wife, and generally behaves like a model, upright citizen of an ideal sort of Eisenhower America where the turbulence of the 60s appears never to have occurred.
Except every so often, Clark goes out alone and murders a girl.

Maloney cast Robert Wagner as Clark and Dickinson as his wife Laura and they have great chemistry, especially during their tender, creepy love scenes. Wagner seems to burrow into himself, finding the darkness at the core of his beauty, and in his scenes with Dickinson – particularly the later ones, after we have witnessed him at “work”, his hollow, flat cheeriness is absolutely terrifying and introduces an incredible level of clammy suspense to the narrative.
Dickinson – seemingly oblivious throughout – subtly allows some ambiguity to seep into her portrayal in the last act, suggestions that she is aware of her husband’s otherness, if not quite the full extent of his extreme behaviour. Maloney’s direction of each lead, and of all the actresses playing victims, indicates that he was a fine, sensitive director of actors as well as an original and gifted stylist.

The beautiful scope photography from James Wong Howe remakes the world of American suburbia into a fantastically beautiful wonderland of colour, where vivid fire engine reds run alongside cyans and cobalts and rich navy. This together with Elmer Bernstein’s loungey score serves to create a portrait of America as almost supernaturally perfect – glowing with colour and life.
The films first half hour give no indication of what is to come. We see Clark at work, at home, sleeping with his wife, playing with his kids. It is becoming dull, almost, but for Wagner’s mesmerising work and Maloney’s fabulous eye.
And then Clark leaves work one night, drives to a bar, picks up a girl (Tuesday Weld) there, goes back to her place and, in a long and scarcely bearable scene, strangles her.
It begins as a love scene, and there is quite an erotic charge between the actors, which evaporates when Clark breaks away from a long kiss with the girl with his hands clamped around her throat. Maloney pushes a slow zoom in towards his intent, rapt features as she shakes and racks herself against him and sweat breaks out upon his brow as we watch.
His calm, clinical, efficient disposal of her corpse is portrayed with economy in a few crisp sequences and the final scene of the first act is perhaps the scariest in the film – Clark returns home and sits on his daughters bed, watching her sleep, having killed less than an hour before.

Wagner has stated that Maloney never explained the film to the cast, but that he minutely modulated Wagner’s work, urging him to flatten out or pump up line deliveries, whispering in Dickinson’s ear during their scenes together. Howe refused to discuss Maloney after the film was completed, and the crew claim that his visual perfectionism and refusal to compromise over any shot or camera movement gave his DP little creative crawlspace – Maloney did all the work and expected the great Howe to arrange it, acting as a mere technician.
The film does look incredible, an otherworldly portrayal of the familiar. This, combined with the darkness of the themes and story – Maloney is attempting a critique of American consumerist society, it seems, but there have been numerous existentialist readings of the film and its ambivalent portrayal of its protagonist – meant that the film was a commercial disaster. It sank without trace in the US, and was only really rescued by its championing in France, where it became a cult object, remade in 1984 by Bernard Goublis with Michael Pare in the lead role.

This commercial failure has made it easier for Maloney to disappear, and subsequent attempts to locate him have all ended up in dead ends.
The fact that Maloney was not his real name – and that nobody in Hollywood knew what his real name was – has made it next to impossible to find him, or even discern if he is alive or dead. He fell off the radar soon after the film’s release, and has never reappeared on it. The real tragedy of this, for the cinephile, is that a director of rare talent and vision is lost to us. The only consolation is the exceptional quality of the single film he left behind, and the fascinating riddle of his life.

Sunday, October 4, 2009



“Enganche” (2007)

It begins with mere flashes:
A first person POV shot of feet upon steps. Looking down, briefly, establishing the security of footing. The feet are clad in running shoes, we notice, the brand instantly identified. Tracksuit bottoms on the legs.
The steps have a steel trim – this is a coach, this person is disembarking. The camera motion is quick, almost sickeningly so.
We are in a bay of some sort, cameras flashing nearby, a crowd roaring, seeking attention. We glance fleetingly – a whip pan streaking light, faces, blue and yellow scarves across the screen – in that direction, then we are moving, following the teammate in front. The stadium looms overhead. La Bombonera, dark, the noise inside spilling into the night sky.

In the dressing room. Flat light but a charged atmosphere. Men taping up ankles, dancing to loud music, shouting encouragement and oaths at one another. Young men, some just boys. Footballs flicked about like party balloons. Somebody juggling one on a boot which glints gold.
Older men in crumpled suits and training kit circulate, sweaty, as if they had already been playing.
We sit and fidget, legs bouncing. They look at us, to us. Some need in their eyes, though they try to hide it.

Taking the field. The journey up out of the dressing room, the expectant faces. Shabby corridors, harsh lighting, the clatter of boots upon the tile. And then the sound – an ocean, waves pounding rock. It grows louder quickly. We turn a corner and ahead we can see the tunnel’s mouth. The great wash of sound beyond, the light intense. Glancing sideways, a teammates head bowed, eyes closed, praying silently.
Another team emerges, stand alongside, their shirts a bright, shocking red. A pause, the only noise some exhortations from unseen players and the crowds avalanche beyond.
Then we are emerging, the noise thunderous, a great surge of air from the steep stands, streamers in the air, drums beating, tribal chanting. We race off, a ball at our feet, glance up and with a lazy swipe it arcs away and lands at the foot of a teammate 30 years away. A two handed wave to the crowd. They roar us.
Positioned at the centre circle. The strikers stand by the ball, laughing together. Beyond them, the opposition players, in their formation like chess pieces, bouncing up and down, waiting. We look up at the sky, filled with the stadiums light, with all the light of Buenos Aires’ vastness, a milky purple-grey. Then down. The shrill whistle. Movement. The strikers move the ball between them, then one, without looking rolls it calmly back to you.
Already there is an opposition player advancing – charging – towards us. One touch, then we flick the ball with an outstep and it is passing over his head and into the path of your right winger.
We are off.

Bianchi was born the adored first son of a middle class Buenos Aires couple in 1970. His father was a doctor and his mother had been a nurse, and he himself would complete two years at medical college before working up the courage to tell his father that what he really wanted to do was direct.
His parents proved surprisingly accommodating – perhaps because his mother had always harboured thespian ambitions of her own (she would appear in the pivotal role of Karelina in his 1995 debut, “Bosteros”), and he was afforded financial assistance beyond the means of most of the Argentine population as he embarked on his self-education.
They bought him a camera, and he learned the basics of cinematic storytelling on his own and without instruction, shooting his friends and family, encouraging improvisation, learning how to follow but never intrude. He would write a two line description of a scene, brief his “cast” on the details of their character, then abandon them and begin shooting immediately. He held the camera out from his eye a little, holding it very gently, his feet always moving, performing a little dance. He moved through space, following his subject as they moved and talked. You could say the basis of his mature style lies in this period.

“I liked the way a handheld camera moves. I liked the floating effect you could get if you were slow and steady and avoided whipping it around. It was eerie. It was beautiful. How God would see us.”

Bianchi’s Uncle Oscar, his father’s younger brother, was a fanatical Boca Juniors supporter. His gift to baby Juan Pablo on birth was a Boca shirt with his name on the back above the number 10. He began bringing his nephew to games at age 5, bouncing him in the stands alongside thousands of other supporters. He instilled in him a love of the passion and spectacle of a football stadium, and also a love of the game played a certain way.
Juan played as a boy, but he has claimed that he was never as good as he wanted to be.

“I wanted to be a 10, it was my dream. And I could see the passes, I always had the vision. But my technique wasn’t good enough. If I was being tightly marked, I could not dribble my way out of trouble. My passes were never quite as perfect as they should have been – I overhit or underhit everything. So my Coaches ended up playing me as a fullback or maybe as the 8. I was happy enough, just to play, I still love to play, but it wasn’t what I dreamed of.”

Filmmaking was his new dream, but he meekly endured two years at medical college before he declared that to his family. During that time he had been watching films maniacally, devouring the work of legions of the world’s great directors and watching Boca every week. He met a girl at a film club screening of Oshima’s “Night & Fog in Japan” and fell in love. She was a student and Film Critic for her University paper, and they would stay up all night watching endless movies, a period he called his most basic education in cinema. Through debates with her, through reading her books on film, and watching these films he did not know, he discovered cinema and what he wanted to do with it. He claimed later that they split because her family supported River Plate.

His favourite cinema was invariably Italian – he loved the tension of authenticity in Neo-Realism but also the precise compositions and emotional landscaping of Antonioni. Some American cinema had a massive impact - John Cassavetes was a revelation, as was Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep”.
Bianchi believed cinema should reflect real life, illuminate it in all its banality and ugliness, but also reveal unexpected beauty.
“I don’t understand cinema as spectacle. For spectacle, there is sport. I want spectacle, I watch football, I go to boxing. Cinema should be about life, not escape. If you must, you escape through the poetry of the storytelling. Through colour, music, editing.”

The camera his father bought him became a constant companion. Friends have complained it was as if he believed a moment had not actually occurred unless he had filmed it, and his private archive is said to contain thousands of hours of home movies from this period. He took his camera to Boca games – some of the footage would show up in “Bosteros” – and to gigs. He took it to parties, weddings, he took it to the cinema. He brought it on a first date, an episode he later used in “San Telmo”.
He also began shooting his own movies.
Beginning with sprawling half hour sitcom style comedies, he roped in friends and family, verbally gave them some brief character sketches and a starting point, then let them do whatever they thought was truest, funniest or most dramatically powerful. All of the dialogue came from them.
Over a few years he narrowed his focus and his angle of approach also changed. Comedy became a more important element. He encouraged a deadpan ping pong of dialogue back and forth between his characters, full of repetition and gaining power as it rolled along.
“Bosteros” is perhaps his most accessible comedy, a rambunctious coming-of-age story following four friends, all fans of Boca, of course, from their last day in school until the day one of them marries. At the same time it is an examination of football hooliganism in Argentina - Seba, the youngest of the group, is drawn slowly into the ranks of a group of Barras Bravas and ends up as a gangster – and more broadly, a critique of the Argentine education system. Only one of the group – studious, serious Gabi – attends university, while Lisandro goes to work in a record shop and Mario works in a hotel. They all bemoan their lack of prospects. Even Gabi – who finds himself embroiled in a serious affair with Mario’s mother – is depressed by his options for the future, and finally plans to escape to Spain where he has secured a job. Many of their group conversations are good-natured attacks upon Argentina and its decaying institutions – the economy, the police, the church, and most viciously; the Football Association.
Yet their twin obsessions are sex and Boca.
Bianchi filmed hours of footage on the terraces at La Bombonera, his camera jostled by the swaying mass, his actors screaming and jumping with the crowd, the emotions and responses to the action utterly real. Some games are given context so that there is a sense of tension and release when goals are scored and final whistles blow. But mostly Bianchi likes to drop the audience into the fray without warning. He will cut from a quiet scene – the intense, intimate and quite beautifully played and shot scenes where Gabi sleeps with Karelina for the first time, for instance – without warning to an abstract image and the roar of the Boca crowd in full fury. The point is the absolute immersion that attending football in Argentina offers, how much it differs from everyday life, how richly intense the experience is. The same approach governs the scenes of fan violence – mobs racing through darkened streets and brief brawls in alleyways, a man kicked by a group of boys in the shadows beneath a stand – all of which come and go in dreamlike flashes.
Sex however is given far more consideration. These young men talk about it ceaselessly. When they do it, Bianchi never cuts away, and his sex scenes cover the spectrum, from comic to erotic, from dull to unpleasant, from joyful emotion to blank-eyed anonymous lust. The film was controversial upon its release in Argentina for its “pornographic” sexual content, and the fact that some actors cheerfully admitted to having had sex on camera.
But Bianchi has insisted that all he wanted to do was to give sex its proper place and admit its importance in the lives of young people. Glamourised simulation seemed an insult to real people with real bodies, having real sex. Instead his heroes have beerguts and suffer from premature ejaculation. They say the wrong name during sex. They fall over, they fart.

“Bosteros” (1995)

Lisandro brings Eloise home after their first date. He has lusted after her forever but the date has not been entirely successful. Conversation has been difficult, even somewhat stilted, and he was surprised when she agreed to come home with him.
His tentative nervousness is obvious in his small bedroom. He puts on some music – West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys – and the room is suddenly extremely tense.
Eloise sits on his bed. He sits beside her.
She puts her hand on his knee and he turns to her and they kiss.
Within seconds they are tearing at one another. Clothes are levered off limbs and flung into corners, shoes clump off the wall.
Eventually she lies back, her shirt twisted around her shoulders, breasts exposed, skirt on the floor. His trousers are around his ankles, one shoe off, entirely topless.
This is how they start to fuck, and he stops to readjust three times in the first minute, both their faces masks of frustration and irritation.
Finally he tries to kick off his shoe as he thrusts into her, then reaches down to pull at it, loses his balance and falls over sideways. She screams in pain.
Cut to Lisandro in a bar with the boys.
Lisandro: Shes a screamer, you should have heard her…

“Bosteros” instantly made Bianchi a young star of International cinema. Its energy and verve, allied with a wisdom about people and dedication to subtle interrogation of Bianchi’s interests struck an immediate chord with critics and a youthful audience. Plus it was hysterically funny and universal.
Bianchi followed it with “Te Queiro” (1998), a bleak and intense drama following a young couple as they travel through Patagonia on a make-or-break trip,
Shot with a minimal crew over almost a year after months of workshopping and assembled by Bianchi over a lengthy and troubled post-production schedule during which he claimed to have suffered a nervous breakdown, the film is claustrophobic and gutwrenchingly intimate. The audience is in bed with these lovers as they have angry sex after yet another fight. In a restaurant with them as they try not to argue, try not to loath each other. In a toilet cubicle with Marco as he breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. With Isabella as she picks up a man in a bar and is raped in his car afterwards.
With Marco as he walks away from her for the last time and we can see her over his shoulder, watching him leave her.
Bianchi’s darkest and most pessimistic film, it may also be his most purely beautiful. Patagonia’s vast expanse is a crucible for the personal combat between these two people, the lowering skies ominous, their figures isolated and tiny against the emptiness.

The hours of abandoned footage – six hours, if his editor is to be believed – were reclaimed and used in his next film, “San Telmo” (1999).
Marco and Isabella feature briefly, as soon-to-depart friends of Bianchi’s unnamed waitress heroine. We follow her through a week of her life. Going on a blind date, visiting her sick father in hospital, falling in love, painting. The buoyant optimism of the film makes it the flipside to “Te Queiro”s pessimistic view. Pilar O'Higgins is magnetic in the lead role, and she and Bianchi would marry soon after the shoot finished. The film does feel like the work of a man in love - it glows with life and warmth and energy. Bianchi's optimism here is in stunning contrast with the sourness of "Te Queiro", even if his method is the same.

San Telmo (1999)

Pilar: Didn't I ask you to go away? Didn't I?
Rolando: Did you? I didn't hear.
Pilar: Are you deaf or something?
Rolando: Only in the presence of great beauty.
Pilar: Oh I'll have to watch you, won't I...

It would be four years before the release of Bianchi's next and most ambitious film, "Atlantico Sur" (2003). A three and a half hour account of the life of one Buenos Aires boy through his childhood, youth in the barrio, experience in the Army during the Falklands War and disillusioned return to Argentina afterwards, it was a difficult, protracted production. Bianchi had been honing the story and casting for years before shooting began and his obsessive attention to detail wore down his cast and crew. Pre-release hype in Argentina sold the film as some sort of native "Gone With the Wind" when in fact it is much closer to a mixture of Truffaut with Malick's "The Thin Red Line". Bianchi searches for the visual poetry in every shot, making this his most sensuous, purely visceral film. At the same time, his approach to improvisation is unchanged. During the combat scenes, his actors - who had been put through a bootcamp in Southern Patagonia by Falklands veterans - were thrown into simulated combat situations without any information about the scene. Explosions lit up the landscape around them, tracer rounds tore over the ground and the roar of blanks being fired was deafening. Bianchi wanted them tired, scared and softened up, as close to the young soldiers they were portraying had been.

This lends his combat scenes a nauseous sense of panic, as actors snivel and jump as the camera is jolted by massive blasts only feet from them. The Falklands scenes occupy only 45 minutes of the films running time, and yet they are at the heart of the narrative emotionally and thematically. In these scenes nothing is contextualised. The men are flung into battle without preparation, information or tactical foregrounding, and so is the audience. Occasionally officers show up briefly and pass along orders and summaries of wider events. We see and hear how these are twisted by chinese whispers only to reappear hours later in different form entirely.

The violence in these scenes is horrific, and Bianchi presents it flatly, without comment. Limbs are torn from bodies, flesh smoilders on corpses, men lose their sanity, and the land shakes beneath the force of the conflict. Yet Bianchi is always ready to cut away to the sea, the grey South Atlantic itself, or a young soldier lost in a reverie against a sunrise, or clouds cutting through the sky above. His protagonist is a dreamer and the film accepts his way of seeing, it adapts to his world. As a child he has drifted out of scenes and into his own world, and this is a habit the film takes up enthusiasically. The music throughout is by Debussy and the dreamlike mood it evokes creates a pleasing distance between the action and our view of it.

Atlantico Sur (2003)

A young soldier shivers huddled beside two comrades near dawn. The wind is loud on the soundtrack. We can faintly make out their chattering teeth. He breaks away from them and walks, arms wrapped around himself, to the latrine where he loses himself in a reverie at the sight of the rising sun against the far horizon. A slice of purest pink against the grey. The camera lingers upon it as it drags itself upwards.
Machine gun fire, men yelling unintelligible oaths and commands. The young soldier hunkered down, trying to press himself to the earth. An explosion rocks the camera itself.

"Atlantico Sur" failed at the Argentine Box Office but was a massive critical hit internationally. Bianchi seemed unconcerned, either way. He and O'Higgins had a couple of children as Bianchi seemingly retired from directing, instead writing the odd piece for Buenos Aires arts journals and too often on mid-day talk shows. He went on tour with the Peruvian Surf-Punk band Pato Loco with a couple of cameras and made a documentary about the band and the tour which was released straight to DVD entitled "Pato Loco Rocks!!" and was then approached by Boca Juniors to make a behind-the-scenes documentary about the club. He enthusiastically agreed, shot days of footage at the training ground, in the boardrooms and dressing room before he had a better idea.

"Enganche" was the result. Shot entirely from the first person POV of Boca Playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme during a league game against Independiente, the film was a logistical nightmare. Bianchi covered the actual game with 25 cameras, tracking every player individually so that he could catalogue all their movements. Then he brought them all back, months later, during the off-season, and had them re-enact that entire game over the course of 14 nights, shooting different portions on each night. Riquelme wore a harness for some sequences, but others featured only a cameraman in his place. The other players were walked through the action in 20 minute chunks, drilled in where they had to be and how they had to react to everything. The crowd were paid in food and beer, and the players took part in penalty kick and freestyle tricks competitions during the hours of waiting around. Bianchi called it the best set he'd ever worked on.

The film, when it emerged, was polarising. In Argentina some critics labelled it a waste of time, money and talent, while others instantly claimed it was a masterpiece, a commentary on the nature of football and of cinema. Riquelme stated in many interviews that it showed what it was like to be on the pitch during a game, how the action flows and eddies around you, then erupts in a a flurry of sudden activity and exertion. Bianchi insists it is his favourite of his films for its honesty and the textures it reveals.
"There is no artifice, and yet it was all acted out, it is like a police reconstruction. These people were reconstructing their own actions, however, which makes it a unique film. They are both performing for the camera and not, at the same time. They are playing football, and pretending, at the same time. I think its beautiful. The sounds of their studs in the grass, the crowd roar, the way the ball cracks off Roman's boot - it shows why football is beautiful, why I love it."

It had limited commercial potential, of course, but sold well on DVD and has established a significant cult in the few years since its release. Bianchi's versatility had been proven once again. He was due to follow it with an untitled Political Drama which began shooting in October 2007. However, he abandoned the project after a weeks work and in a confessional interview given to a French journal six months later explained why:
"I felt i had fallen out of love with shooting. i dreaded going to the set. The actors irritated me, the endless decisions about technical details seemed trifling and petty, it just all mounted up. eventually I felt like i wasn't working as an artist at all, more of a Project manager, like on a building site. so i walked."

Since then Bianchi has flirted with a few projects - including an English language immigrant story for an American studio - but committed to none. But his reputation as one of the most exciting and brave directors in World Cinema is firmly established, and whatever he does next, it will doubtlessly be as fascinating, complex and ambitious as his work up to this point.