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Our Daily Bread #3

An epic journey of images through Cimino, Mann, Ferrara, Bertolucci, to von Sternberg and back again.
Neil Bahadur

In Year of the Dragon, King of New York, and Heat: we see the backs of heads, we see men with obsessive drives, propelled, driven by force.

The camera has no choice but to follow them.

In fact, Year of the Dragon gives us men who are not just propelled by force, but are force.

—but at the expense of their personal lives, destroying the relationships with those closest to them.

So too, then, does Heat, 10 years later.

Friends and loved ones all die, thus accidental Pietàs are formed.

—foreshadowed by existing Pietàs.

All three films are romantic films, because color is no longer an outward physical phenomenon, but rather an internal representation, a mood. An emotion.

The camera sweeps.

“In the words of my friend Bernardo Bertolucci, you’re creating a nostalgia for a past that never existed.” —Michael Cimino

The camera is in constant activity, it dances.

And so too, are emotions turned into colors.

Where does this come from? Bertolucci’s adolescent career as a poet?

Of course not. It comes from Von Sternberg.

Mirrors take on the same effect.

And force continues to reign.

“It made me rethink the potential for color in movies. I was working in black & white then. It put me in a new direction. I began to think of the image differently.”  —Abel Ferrara

So Ferrara lathers his film in blue:

Men become bodies, even less so, figures. And even less than that, poses. Purveyors of force.

We have seen this shot before, in Bertolucci:

And we will see it nearly 30 years later, in Mann:

Indeed, both Heat and King of New York open similarly, quietly.

Architecture imposes.

Objects we see every day become lines of fragmentation.

And the city looms large in the distance, omniscient. It is a boiling pot, but of what?

Is it the Monument Valley of the late 20th Century? The city takes on this same purpose in later works of both these directors. The difference is that in both cases the city resembles something apocalyptic.

In Miami Vice, a character leaps to his death after he turns his head away from Jamie Foxx and towards the city beyond, becoming the last thing he ever sees.

So in King of New York, Frank White finally enters the city rather than watches it, when he decides to meet his death.

Reflections make him resemble a ghost.

Even in Year of the Dragon, the city becomes imposing.

Would either of these other films exist without Year of the Dragon? Perhaps the connection is less apparent with Mann, but Cimino’s imprint is clear on Ferrara. Some of the same actors even reappear in King of New York.

And doubly so, Ferrara’s imprint is all over Mann.

“Michael Mann wanted me to end the movie right here. He kept saying ‘Ya gotta end it here man! Ya gotta end it here!’” —Abel Ferrara

Our Daily Bread is a column on not necessarily beautiful images, nor similar images, but images that when brought together interact in meaningful ways.


Abel FerraraBernardo BertolucciColumnsJosef von SternbergMichael CiminoMichael MannOur Daily Bread
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