This is the fourth post in our “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts we’re going to pick our 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why we like them.
Up this week, Sydney Film Reviewer and Editor of The Film Emporium, Andrew Buckle has kindly contributed a guest list for us. Not wanting to conform with ‘The Best Films Set In…’, Andrew’s list is rather ‘The Best Films Set On…’.
Check out Andrew’s picks for ‘The Best Films Set On…A River’, after the jump!
1. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novel, Heart of Darkness and influenced by the film preceding this on the list. Apocalypse Nowfollows Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) as he journeys up the Nung River, snaking through the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia, to a forest compound governed by a renegade American Special Forces Colonel, Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), whose unsound methods now exist outside the jurisdiction of the American Military. Settled in neutral Cambodia, Kurtz now rules his own native army, and is believed to have gone rogue. Willard’s mission is to infiltrate this compound and exterminate the Colonels command. He is assigned to a Navy Patrol Boat, PBR Streetgang, who would escort him up river to his classified destination. The vessel was run by an eclectic gang of misfits, including ‘Chief’ Phillips (Albert Hall), Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms), Mr Clean (Lawrence Fishburne) and Chef (Frederick Forrest). Each give brilliant independent performances, and each transcends into a disillusioned state in their own way. Willard’s mission is priority, but obstacles along the way both strengthen their kinship, and further alienate them from one another. The scale of Apocalypse Now is monumental and it is littered with amazing sequences. One of the grandest war epics ever made, and THE definitive cinematic river journey.
2. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre: The Wrath of God] (Werner Herzog, 1972)
Follows the tale of an impossible mission by Spanish conquistadors to search the Peruvian Rainforest for the lost city of El Dorado. After striking trouble in the fierce rapids of the Amazon and losing an entire raft, the crippled hierarchy is slowly overthrown by Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) who, despite the endless setbacks, is committed to continuing the mission and reaping the riches promised by the discovery. Faced with unseen enemies that silently shoot down his men from the banks, hunger, dehydration and disease, and mutiny at every corner, Aguirre’s gradual wallow into madness is a mesmerizing experience. Features one of the most amazing opening sequences in all of cinema, and further evidence of Herzog’s feats of guerrilla film-making.
3. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
Four Atlanta businessmen, Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (Jon Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox), decide to canoe down a river in the remote North Georgian wilderness, expecting to have a male bonding experience and see the glory of nature before the fictional Cahulawassee River valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader, while Ed is also a veteran of several trips. What begins as a relaxing excursion quickly turns into a nightmare, and the film is clearly divided by an ‘event’ – extremely harrowing – that changes the course of the story dramatically. Also famous for the ‘duelling banjos’ sequence. Pretty close to a perfect film.
4. Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)
Werner Herzog’s two most famous films are set on a river. Both appear on this list and both happen to star Klaus Kinski. Fitcarraldo tells of a journey over land and water. Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Kinski), a European living in Iquitos, a small city in Peru, is a dreamer. He loves the opera and dreams of building an opera house. To do that he needs money – and turns his interests to rubber, and the one remaining rubber plantation cut off from the Pachitea River and the Amazon by treacherous rapids. What he goes through to achieve his dream offers up some of the most breathtaking imagery you will ever see. What is extraordinary is that Herzog lived the same dream as his lead character, going slowly insane and actually pulling a 320-ton steamer over a muddy hillside, enlisting local tribesmen to help him.
5. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
A well-regarded classic of the screen, this John Huston-directed adventure pairs up Humphrey Bogart, a coarse, rough-around-the-edges boat captain, and Katherine Hepburn, a prim-and-proper Methodist missionary, as the mismatched Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer. Set in the beginning of WWI, and following a German siege of her mission village, Rose convinces Charlie to navigate the African Queen, Charlie’s boat, downriver and through dangerous rapids and an assortment of other obstacles and sink a German gunboat patrolling the waters and preventing a British counter-attack. I was a little disappointed when I first watched it, because it does show its age, but the performances are excellent and it is certainly entertaining.
By Andrew Buckle
Do you agree or disagree with Andrew’s picks? Let us know in the comments