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Friday, July 27, 2007

The two greatest car chases 

Nobody filmed 'em better than Frankenheimer.

Regarding car chases, the French Connection, as dramatic as it looked, is not an especially sophisticated chase, technically speaking (though the dramatic element of chasing the "L" with a car is affective and effective). The chase relies on undercranking to speed up the action, and quick cuts to avoid spoiling some fairly modest illusions.

Wikipedia does say that it was filmed without permits or road closures, and thus some of the driving is in the middle of real traffic, which is probably why it could never happen today.

For convincing car chase/race sequences, Frankenheimer's two great car movies stand out. In Grand Prix, he basically invented the modern rigs for attaching cars to cameras, and in an interview with Speedvision (now Speed Channel) before his death (I think Bruce Dern was the host), he talked about how they were occasionally filming from helicopters flying 15 feet above the cars, something which wouldn't be possible today.

In Grand Prix, the action is virtually at full speed, and the effect is astounding. See a documentary here.

Also, it's fun for annoying cinephiles. Cite it as both your favourite Toshiro Mifune movie, and your favourite Yves Montand movie, and watch steam come out of their ears!

Then came Ronin in 1998, which effectively reprises the same filming techniques (sans the helicopters) but with road cars on normal roads. Despite the three decades separating the two films, I think the cars-at-speed scenes of either are only equalled by the other.

Ronin features a pair of car chases, each quite amazing in its own right. The commentary by Frankenheimer on the DVD is pure entertainment, with the director revealing that there was a stunt driver inside the car that gets blown up, among other technical tidbits.

Both movies have essentially slight plots outisde of their action sequences. As with Grand Prix, you can have fun citing this as your favourite Robert DeNiro/Jean Reno/Stellen Skarsgard movie! Or cite either as your favourite Frankenheimer movie, so they can start sputtering "Manchurian Candidate!"

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