Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bullitt and the feeling of Deja Vu

The other night I watched Steve McQueen's Bullitt on the American Classic Movies channel.  As I watched a number of startling revelations hit me at once.  Some I actually thought quite profound.
The first thought crossing my mind is how American movies in the action/police drama genre have changed over the years.  In part changed, thank you very much, because of this movie.  I'm only partially talking about the famous chase scene in the movie.  The rolling carnage of a rumbling Dodge Charger and its powerful Hemi driven by the bad guys being chased by McQueen in his British Racing Green Ford Mustang with its butch-sounding 390 V-8.  Up and down the famous hilly streets of San Francisco--this chase scene becoming the standard ALL chase scenes afterwards would be judged by.
Gives you a tingly sensation seeing the birth of a iconic image like this.  It really does.
But what really caught my attention was McQueen's way of acting.  I was stunned by the lack of verbiage (dialogue) in the movie.  McQeen tells a story of a complex murder through innuendo;  through side-long glances.  Through pauses in what little dialogue there is.  I haven't done this yet but the thought crossed my mind that throughout the entire movie I'd bet at least a nickle (and that's a pretty big bet for me, brother) McQueen doesn't say more than 150 words max from start to finish in dialogue.
That was his style.  He excelled at it.  And in this movie it was a brilliant performance.
Now think of today's movies.  Lots of talk.  Lots of explosions.  Lots of outrageous physical action which defies Physics and Gravity at the same time.  Lots of forgettable movies.
But the truly profound discover I realized while watching the movie was the stunning disconnect of seeing history flashing before my eyes.  Seeing a world I remember living in.  Yet at the same time having this deja vu like sensation of seeing an alien world in front of me.
In the shots showing the skyline of San Francisco there is no Transamerica Building.  That famous pyramid shaped 85 floored building that dominates today's San Francisco. The movie was made in 1968.  The Transamerican building's construction didn't start until '69.  Kinda spooky realizing you're looking at a piece of history filmed just before Modern Times.
But there's more.  The other thing that jarred my jingle bells was the startling realization just how much today's technology has ingrained itself into our lives.  A scene in the movie shows a suspect, gunned down (and the center piece for the whole movie's plot), in an hospital surgery unit being worked on by a group of doctors and nurses.  There is no technology present.  No multiple monitor screens keeping track of the patient's vitals.  No high tech gizmos with attending specialists hovering in the back of the room waiting to be called upon.  Instead the impression you get is a surgery room that's startling primitive in nature.
There are no cell phones.  No computers.  No small two way radios.  Nothing.  You don't see pedestrians talking on their cell phones as they are walking down the streets.  You don't see gigantic digital screens flashing advertising slogans off buildings.  What you do see is a native species living lives completely divorced from technology.
A jarring revelation, quite frankly.
There is a reason why this particular movie so vividly impressed me compared to, say, watching an old reel of the Keystone Cops filled back in the 1920's.  Back in '68 I was 19 years old.  A year out of high school.  Already married and a father.  I knew the old technology back then.  Was familiar with many of the cars. Familiar with the turtle neck sweaters and sport coats McQueen wears in the movie.
I remember living in this alien world.
And that scares me the most.


  1. BR, I spent an afternoon drinking with McQueen shortly after he made this movie. I was living in Bermuda and hanging out in a key club when he walked in, in cutoffs and flip-flops. He'd sailed his boat over from New York. There were 4-5 of us hanging out and he spent the afternoon with us, drinking and swapping lies. Really a cool guy! And, he didn't buy... cheapskate... We treated him. I guess it was worth it. He had some pretty good stories...

  2. Les, you've been a lucky man. Met some interesting people. Glad I know'ya, fella.