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Tent Pole #1: Manhunter
roger in vogue by art attack
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There's a line in your movie-going life that separates a "before" and "after."

Before
was when movies were that special treat of mom and dad taking you to the movie house as a special outing, followed by merienda, or a trip to the toy shop.

After is when it dawns on you that a movie goes beyond entertaining you—that it's something you feel connected to in a creative sense. That you will probably be a MOVIE FAN.

Well, no shock—this is a phenomenon that happened to me. Sometimes you get lucky, and there will be that a movie (or movies) that will draw that line.

I've been trying to recall what chronological age I was when that happened—the earliest experience that made me see the movies differently. Was it Ordinary People? (Could be. Merits further thinking, which, I'm sure you know I'm doing!) Chariots Of Fire? Amadeus?

Who knows, really. (Yeah, yeah. I'll think about it. Some more.) So I decided to make the first long-promised "tent pole" discussion on Manhunter, directed by Michael Mann, released in 1986. It stars CSI's William Petersen. (That's his hot self up there in the first photo, 20 years ago and pretty hot!) It's not the first on the tent pole list, but I do know this movie is definitely part of it.



Manhunter is the first movie to feature Hannibal Lecter, adapted from the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. How it ended up with a generic-o, exploitative title like Manhunter is the usual, Hollywood cautionary tale. "Red Dragon" sounds martial arts-y, doesn't it? It's striking, because despite the gruesomeness of a serial killer murdering whole families and the use of nasty Dr. Lecter as a forensic Virgil, Manhunter is super far from exploitative. (No ick-ish brain sautéeing, no faces removed from live heads… you don't even see how the murders happened.)

Michael Mann was in his full Miami Vice bloom, so there are bound-to-amuse 80s flourishes in the flick, but Mann's flair for composition and camera movement is undeniably great in any era. Love that flare effect in the pic above, and the pic below is gorgeous and evocative.



William Petersen is FBI Agent Will Graham, who's captured a few serial killers in his day, INCLUDING one Dr. Hannibal Lecter. His "immersive" detective techniques brings him to the edge of his sanity and apprehending Lecter in particular landed him in dire psychological straits. (Do you want to be in Lecter's brain?) As Manhunter begins, Will has quit the FBI and raising a family in Florida. But capturing the "Tooth Fairy," a family-murdering serial killer requires an agent of Will's skills. Will's compelled back into the game, mentally fragile as he is. So the chase begins, and director Mann and actor Petersen unveil the investigation with flair, dread (for both the danges posed by the Tooth Fairy and for the sanity of Will) and exhilarating intelligence. These agents are wicked smart, and seeing that displayed is way more fun than cutesy pirates fighting menacing squids, or whatever it is they do on those Pirates movies.




The portrayal of evil in the likes of Lecter and the Tooth Fairy also takes a novel approach. They never signal "bad guy over here!" machinations. Mann is able to make you certain these antagonists are horrid and trusts the viewers to come to that conclusion. (And I was glad to see this method revisited in the recent Zodiac.) Brian Cox plays Lecter and his three scenes, simply written, impart such deep evil. No ooga booga Claaarriiicceee hamming it up. Lecter doesn't even get a frightening lair. He's kept in an all-white glass cell, no frills and clinical. (This being Michael Mann and all, he set the Lecter prison in the actual Atlanta Museum of Modern Art, designed by architect Richard Meier.)






Something about Manhunter made me want to watch it over and over (it is pretty entertaining), and each viewing got me thinking, speculating, wondering how Michael Mann made such an awesome suspense/action movie with hardly any gore or stunt-filled action sequences. What I've called a show-not-tell directing style.

When a movie can give you this much, even though Mann & co was probably just aiming to make a nice piece of entertainment, it's a pretty neat magic trick, no?

Also, you'll never listen to Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" the same way again. You'll always see this movie in your head.


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it's also a desert-island favorite

we've been thinking about your tent poles and we now know what ours is. it's "dog day afternoon." that's when we discovered what good acting was all about (al pacino, THEN). good casting, good directing, good editing, good story-telling... and talk about good soundtrack: the first strains of elton john's "amoreena" will always bring us back to 1975. (ay, thunders!)

Awesome answer, thefashpack!

I can easily sense your awe of discovery from your mere blog entry. I love hearing stuff like that. It's exactly what tent pole moments should be.

You can unleash another one upon the next tent pole entry. (Or sooner if you like!)

This is one of my tent-poles as well. I got the Director's Cut Limited Edition set from Amazon some years ago and I watch it when I can. And I think I wrote about it my blog once, but I can't remember where there and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I noted the surreal-ness of a CSI Episode that pitted William Peterson against Tom Noonan again.

Hey, book heads-up: read Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Cool.

I will happily search the agabot archives for it!

Those limited edition DVD's are well, limited! As in numbered! Nice going. I had the other, non-limited, non-numbered version, but I was just plain grateful to have Manhunter come out on DVD at all! I went from Betamax, to (rental) LaserDisc, to LaserDisc version recorded to VHS to DVD with this movie.

The colors were crisper than ever. I gained a new appreciation for it on DVD. I knew it was a striking-looking movie, but back then I was just floored by the storytelling and the acting. Now, I taken back by how vivid Manhunter was.

So when Silence Of The Lambs came out (yes, I know it's sacred!), I was all, "Eh?" Less than impressed. Still a great movie, but SOTL had a lot to live up to!

BTW, I feel so accomplished grabbing the screencaps with the VLC Player! Thanks Patrick, for teaching me!

I've read reviews of the Calamity Physics book. Duly intrigued and aim to read it. :-)

Always good to hear from you, agabot. Have your covert movie scooping ways lead to you to the trailers of American Gangsters and 3:10 To Yuma. Can't wait to see those movies!

Yes, I have the trailers to those, m'dear. I think the Pessl book is available here already - I had to buy mine in Kinokuniya on Orchard in Singapore!

Glad to see you're learning the ways of the Mac, padawan. I sorta knew that's what you did, looking at your post. Congrats.

Lecter and Calamity

(Anonymous)
I watched Manhunter for the first time recently (Thanks, details later!). And I must say, despite the amusing Miami Vice-ish 80s look, it's pretty good. Then again, this is by Michael Mann, so I expected nothing less. It's obviously not one of my tentpoles, but I was still impressed. Adn who knew Petersen could be hot, hehehe...I loved the scenes of Lecter in his antiseptic white cell. Cox positively exuded goodnatured menace. It's logical too, given the man's diabolical nature. I mean, would you put somebody like Lecter in a dark cell where you can't see into the shadowy corners? Uh-uh. Not to take anything away from Hopkins' and Demme's interpretation of the more famous Lecter and Silence of the Lambs, which I admit scared the hell out of me too, but Manhunter is genius. And yes, I'll never listen to "In-A-Gadda-Vida" the same way again. Ever.

And, Adel, I have STCP! Details, get a copy soon. Saw some in Fully Booked, and NBS. :) -- Terrie

Re: Lecter and Calamity

Tewwieee! Wasn't it fun to opine on tent poles?

(Subtext: Maybe it's time for Terrie's individual blog so we can access your awesome insights without arm twisting? [wink])

Granted there's lots of other excellent movies to set the poles of your movie love tent on, great as Manhunter may be. But I have to admit, this is essentially the ground zero of my geekiness. (Oh dear!)

I forgot—Michael Mann said that Iron Butterfly recorded "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," they were kinda well, "altered." They were actually singing, "In The Garden Of Eden," but decided to keep the wacky spelling.

Now you know. AND have that in your brain each time you hear the song!

If you believe Michael Mann ha.

naka-naman, I luuurve your screencaps, very propeysunal-looking! :) I suddenly feel very small and insignificant after all the intellectualizing about Manhunter (haven't seen it, have no idea what it's about, am not a fan of Hannibal). I read the book of SOTL, that's about it. And about the movie, I feel beeeeter about it, because I think that was the year Disney's Beauty and the Beast was up for Best Picture *pout*

To further my smallness, I shall pipe in and say one of my tentpoles is...The Little Mermaid! Hwehwehwe...but it's true! I realized one could rewrite stories and hey, it would come out pretty good! I think that's one of the reasons I love that movie so much. Plus, you get music that's become as famous as some Broadway musicals (*sings* "Wouldn't you think I'm the girl, the girl who has everythiiiiiiiing?!")

Will crawl back into my hole for a bit now that *I* have hit ground zero of my geekiness ;)

(Movie geek on) I'm not a fan of Lecter at all, but Manhunter is totally about Will Graham and his delicate sanity. Had to showcase Lecter to hook the dear blog readers, ha ha. :-) Kakainis that Anthony Hopkins' campy portrait has hijacked the Lecter into the forefront. With two more movies about *him* na! Hrumph! (Movie geek off)

And it takes no geek to say that Beauty And The Beast was robbed of the Oscar! Beeeter, party of two!

Sayang, hindi ako sold sa The Little Mermaid. (Yeah, I'm the only one.)

Just for you mrshobbes: queenmina once unleashed the entire "Cinderelly" song OFF THE TOP OF HER HEAD. She did it while we were on YM. I HAD to copy and paste it!

Cinderelly, cinderelly.
Day and night, cinderelly…
Make the fire, fix the breakfast
Wash the dishes, do the moppin
and the sweepin and the dustin
she goes around in circles
til she's very very dizzy
still they holla
keep her busy

I haven't stopped boggling!


Hindi din ako sold sa Little Mermaid, hehe!

But totally loved Beauty and the Beast--something that'll surprise most of those who know me, I think coz I don't look like a Disney-movie fan, hehehe...So it's actually--Beeeter, party of three, hahaha!

Though I admit I'm kinda torn coz I loved SOTL, the movie, coz of Jodie Foster. And, ok, Anthony Hopkins coz he was my template for Hannibal Lecter, since I didn't know any better then, not having watched Manhunter, hehe

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