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August 09, 1979 - Image 7

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1979-08-09

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, August 9, 1979--Page 7
'SAINT JACK'
Bogdanovich s swan song?

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
Perhaps the saddest comment that
can be made about the new Peter Bog-
danovich film Saint Jack is that it
doesn't contain anything to get furious
about. That the picture doesn't contain
anything to get enthusiastic about
either simply lends increased substan-
ce to the notion that the 70's most
notable director-you-love-to-hate didn't
really deserve all that vituperative at-
tention in the first place.
True, Bogdanovich has indulged his
capacious ego by casting himself as one
of the central characters in Saint Jack,
an intemperate risk for a film univer-
sally regarded as a make-or-break
comeback entry by the once-eminent
director. Yet even this bit of
gratuitousness does not stick out
grossly in a movie domipated by a kind

demonstrates the presence of soul to
wisecrack genially while a tattoo artist
friend drills away. the obscenities
without anesthetic. Otherwise, Jack's
activities are confined to an endless
odyssey through the streets of
Singapore, doing good deeds and exten-
ding kind favors while Bogdanovich's
oh-so-cool camera grinds on and on.
OF COURSE, all saints must be
tested by a ritual temptation, and
Jack's comes when a slimy U.S. Army
agent (Bogdanovich) offers him $25,000
in exchange for framing a visiting anti-
war senator through a sex scandal.
Homesick for America but unable due
to his profession to secure a visa, Jack
longingly eyes the payoff as his finan-
cial ticket home. (The notion that our
affluent, street-wise hero would
heretofore have had neither the
ingenuity nor the means to procure a
forged passport strains credulity to the
breaking point, but perhaps a saint
would consider that cheating.
Thus Bogdanovich revs up a belated
morality play. The tension builds: Will
Jack sell out his virtue for the agent's

The tension builds: Will Jack sell out his
virtue for the agent's sacramental pieces of silver?
Would Rocky Balboa throw a fight? Would Oral
Roberts chant hare krishna in the middle of Times
Square? Don't place your bets, folks.

of sodden, defeated ennui both in front
of the camera and behind it. Saint Jack
emerges as a terribly minor work, a
limp, parched vehicle embarrassingly
devoid of interesting plot or inventive
filmsmanship. If Bogdanovich was
going to fail, it would have been
somehow less painful if he'd foundered
in a splashily spectacular fashion
rather than with this scared, small-
minded mouse of a film.
JACK FLOWERS (Ben Gazzara) is
an American expatriate living in
Singapore circa 1971, with Vietnam still
raging just to the north. Jack subists by
being a pimp, but not your usual live-
by-night self-loathing flesh peddler.
Our protagonist plies his trade on a
quiet but altruistically grand scale,
unashamedly ministering to
customers, employees and friends with,
equal, loving affability.
Jack knows the score, man; he's
worldly but not world-weary, self-
satisfied but never prideful, prosperous
but tenderly unselfish. Jack would
never let down a buddy, would never
dream of two-timing a woman. Co-
opting the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold
mystique, he milks it with such deter-
mined good-heartedness that after a
while he seems hardly less celestial
than Francis of Assisi. Jack's sen-
sitivity fairly oozes through his tough
exterior; he shakes his head sadly over
the effects of Nam on fuzz-faced GIs
(many of whom visit his house
regularly), hesmilesiruefullyhand
philosophically when local gangsters
temporarily wipe out his business, he
weeps over a cardiac-stricken friend
whom he can't bring back to life
through respiration. In a me-first
world, he is an unabashed paragon.
All of which makes Jack a rather dull
fellow, cinematically. Nothing very
perilous or dramatic ever seems to
happen to him; his worst calamity oc-
curs when hoods tattoo some ribald
words onto his arms, .andeven ttec he

sacramental pieces of silver? Would
Rocky Balboa throw a fight? Would
Oral Roberts chant hare krishna in the
middle of Times Square? Don't place
your bets, folks.
They say that saints shield their true
feelings behind a mask of in-
scrutability; if so, Ben Gazzara was the
perfect choice to play Jack. The ancient
rumor still persists both on Broadway
and in various Hollywood circles that
Gazzara is a great actor, an actor's ac-
tor; these devotees must be referring to
his dark, flashing eyeballs, which ac-
tually manage to convey occasional
emotion in contrast to his immobile
jowls, his pursed, eternally half-smiling
lips, and his monotonic voice. Watching
Gazzara's murkily arcane performan-
ce, one either concludes that Jack
knows something big that we don't
know, or that he doesn't know anything
at all-and that it probably doesn't
matter which. Gazzara is numbly but
aptly assisted by a supporting cast
comprised mostly of burned-out
Britishers left over from an ersatz
Graham Greene scenario, and selected
Singaporian natives who are placed in
the film primarily to look funny and act
perverse.
BOGDANOVICH'S camera
chronicles Jack's adventures with
adoring, tortoise-paced detail, its

BEN GAZZARA plays the title role in the film many regard as director
Peter Bogdanovich's make-or-break entry to the American film scene.
"Saint Jack" is playing at the Ann Arbor Theater on Fifth Ave.

visuals painted in blue-tinted hues so
icy that you get the feeling Singapore
must lie somewhere near Greenland.
Proceedings occasionally slow to such a
stuporous rate that you can almost sen-
se Bodganovich standing off to the side,
shaking his head admiringly and mut-
tering, of his protagonist and more
subliminally of himself: "What a hell
of a guy!"
If nothing else, the dead-end nar-
cissism of Saint Jack bolsters the
thought that Bogdanovich's cinematic
decline and fall stemmed far less from
Cybill Shepherd than from his narrow
love and total reliance on film genres at
the expense of anything truly fresh and
innovative. Once removed from his
idealized tributes to Karloff, Hawks, or
Busby Berkeley, Bogdanovich becomes
a fish out of water, a limited auteur
formalist without the slightest clue of
how to construct a mobile, fluid
cinematic narrative.
That it took a sterile, idea-less film

like Saint Jack nakedly to bear this out
should hardly be cause for I-told-you-so
rejoicing among critics or movie lovers
in general; I revered Targets, grew to
respect The Last Picture Show, at the
very least enjoyed Nickelodeon. I doubt
that there will be a future Bogdanovich
work either to cherish or despise, a fact
in its own way every bit as tragic as it is
stridently deserved.
ENDS TONIGHT
"ST. JACK" 6:00-8:00-10 00
5th Avenue at y. 761-9700
FomryFifth Forum Theater
HEWORST
RUN
STARTS
TOMORROW
Roger Daltry-John Entwostle-
Keith Moon-Peter Townshend-
Ringo Starr
Fri-6:00-8:00- Adults $1.50 til 6:30
1:50- . weekdays
3:50-6.00-8:00- Adults $1.50 til 2:15
10:00 (or ca)

The Ann Arbor Film Cooperafive Presentsat Aud A
THURSDAY, AUGUST 9
THE LAST WALTZ
(Martin Scorcese, 1978) 7 & 9-AUD A
Scorcese's triumphant and powerfully stylized elegy dedicated to the Bond's
fina-concert at San Francisco's Winterland in 1976. Guest arttsts include
BOB DYLAN, JONI MITCHELL, NEIL YOUNG, VAN MORRISON, ERIC CLAPTON,
DR. JOHN, MUDDY WATERS and PAUL BUTTERFIELD. "The best rock concert
movie ever made."-TIME. Dolby Stereo.
Tomorrow: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and
INVADERS FROM MARS
We support Projectionists Local 395

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