Emperor of the North Screen 7 articles

Emperor of the North


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    Sight & Sound: Nick Pinkerton
    October 02, 2015 | November 2015 Issue (p. 98)

    You can, watching Emperor, learn quite a bit about economical direction and the conveying of character through shrewd action rather than words. Aldrich worked repeatedly with the same collaborators, and they run a tight ship here: editor Michael Luciano keeps things moving along on schedule, while DP Joseph F. Biroc shifts from a murky brown-grey palette to open-air scenes of considerable natural beauty as the journey progresses.

  • This isn't just a movie that transcends critical justification; it looks askance at any high-falutin' claim for its own importance, derides it as empty book learnin'. It all comes down to a man with a chain whaling away at a man with a log and that's all you need to know.

  • YouTube-sourced videos of anonymous teenagers or bemused observers give a collective portrait of the selfie generation (which, judging by these clips, is also the ‘Dancing with Myself’ generation), as well as a growing impression that these images are vital to them in building their identity; in turn these images give viewers a sense of what this identity might be.

  • For a movie rooted in the Depression, Emperor depicts a community that attains a hauntingly out-of-time allure: It’s worth sitting through the closing credits not just for front-and-center character names like “A No. 1” and “Cigaret,” but for background gems like “Cracker,” “Girl In Water,” “Pokey Stiff,” and “Stew Bum.” The effect is a violent intensification of the here-and-now.

  • One of the strongest movies of Aldrich’s late career... Lyrical passages with the sunlight streaming through the boxcar slats slam up against brawny Soviet-style montages of steel and steam. There are flickers of soft-focus period nostalgia, but the movie’s anti-authoritarianism is as resolute as the snub nose on Marvin’s fist-like face.

  • Though the film is set in 1933 during the Depression, the story seems to take place outside history on a plane of pure hatred. Director Robert Aldrich expertly channels this hate in an elemental chase film in which stars Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin tear out chunks of each other’s flesh to perpetuate their mutually solitary ways of life.

  • A delightfully arbitrary, rollicking freight train of an existentialist action-comedy, starring Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin at their “complicated tough guy” best and a baby-faced Keith Carradine sprawling in every which direction... The action is dirty, nasty, and totally legible; the comedy, understated and set into motion by its players’ irresistible charms.

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