Judge Daryl Loomis is writing a review of himself writing this review.
Our review of Targets, published March 19th, 2004, is also available.
All the good movies have been made.
That statement is made by the writer in Targets, Sammy Michaels, who is played by the writer of Targets, and who also directed and edited, Peter Bogdanovich. Saying that is kind of funny, given that it's said in the midst of one of the best movies of the 1960s. Has there been a director who showed more potential and more fully squandered it? To go from the brilliance of Targets and The Last Picture Show to dull, tepid films like The Cat's Meow is mind-boggling to me, but I'm not here to gripe about that. I'm here to celebrate his amazing debut feature, as sadly relevant in 2013 as it was in 1967.
Facts of the Case
Two seemingly unconnected stories come together as we find aging horror icon Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff, Bride of Frankenstein) announcing his retirement to his closest associates. While they try to convince him otherwise, he awaits an appearance at a drive-in the next evening. Meanwhile, an outwardly normal young man (Tim O'Kelly, The Grasshopper) begins building an arsenal for his own special event, an act of violence that will also go down at the drive-in.
The most striking thing about Targets is how modern it feels. It's not only in the mass shooting storyline, which was based on the University of Texas shooting perpetrated by Charles Whitman in 1966, but is a tragedy that has persisted up until this very week. It's Boris Karloff's meta-storyline that makes it seem so current. Take Karloff and his struggles late in life about his legacy, which had become something of a joke at the time, add in his desire to do more dramatic work, and complete the recipe with both clips from Karloff's early work and the writer and director as the writer and director of the fictional movie, and you have a work that is both relevant in style and in content
To have both sides of that is a pretty amazing feat. and it came as a direct result of circumstances. As a Roger Corman production, Targets is an incredibly cheap movie and came with the directive to Bogdanovich to use a certain amount of The Terror, an earlier Corman film that also featured Karloff. Instead of what many of Corman's people would have done, just insert the footage somewhere that it makes a modicum of sense (and usually didn't; Corman was pretty loose about this kind of thing), Bogdanovich cleverly incorporates the footage into the plot of the movie, making The Terror the final destination of both lead characters and displaying the movie directly, as the movie it really is with no attempt to hide its reality.
Targets excels beyond this because of the strong, realistic performances of the two leads. Karloff was a far better dramatic actor than he was ever given credit for; he knew it and Bogdanovich knew it, so placed him into a role that was basically Karloff himself. He was no heavy, which was the original and all too obvious intention; he was just an aging actor and he plays the role beautifully. Tim O'Kelly is equally strong as Bobby Thompson, though the characters are almost complete opposites. Karloff is a gentle old man in the guise of a monster, while O'Kelly is a monster in the guise of a gentle young man. When the two personalities collide in the final conflagration of events, Bogdanovich's attitude toward both becomes very clear. Finally, during the scene, which culminates in a sequence that drips with desperate suspense, Karloff displays incredible bravery while O'Kelly, for all his masculine posturing, proves himself a complete coward.
Through all of this, Bogdanovich created a lasting work that is frighteningly resonate today. It's a horror movie in essence, but not one that immediately identifies itself as such. For years before, horror represented what Karloff describes as a relic: gothic castles, black magic, and things that made no sense to an audience that had just endured the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. This was not horror that audiences knew; it was horror of the real that predates and predicts movies like Straw Dogs and Last House on the Left in the 1970s, in which filmmakers wanted to frighten audiences with ideas of how awful humanity can actually be. Creepy creatures were no longer necessary; America had Charles Whitman, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan to keep them up at night. Bogdanovich, intentionally or not, took advantage of this fact and assembled one of the best and most relevant films of the 1960s.
Retired Judge Bill Treadway correctly and accurately describes the original release of Targets, extolling the virtues of its AV presentation and suggesting, at a mere ten bucks, that everybody get this classic film. That was nearly a decade ago, though, and today, Warner Bros. has re-released the film through their made-on-demand service. There are two problems with that. First, it's identical to the original release. Second and worse, it's running at more than double the price. A new transfer and additional extras, sure, extort money from consumers. A rerelease that they don't have to invest anything in is a plain gouge.
That said, the disc remains pretty solid after all these years. Sure, more could be done to restore the image, a lot more, but it still looks quite decent. It has a natural grain structure and strong black levels, though colors aren't as saturated as they could be and there are some blemishes on the print throughout the film. The two-channel mono sound mix is average, with no distracting background noise and solid dialog, but it's nothing special, either.
Extras, again the same as the old disc, are short but of good quality. It starts with an introduction to the film from Bogdanovich that, in the director's usual style, runs half an hour and is far more of a proper featurette than an introduction. He gets more time to blow his hot air, though, in the audio commentary. It's informative and Bogdanovich is very smart, very good about explaining both the production and his intentions behind it, but be prepared for a lot of name dropping. Did you know that Bogdanovich knew Hitchcock? Don't worry, he'll tell you like ten times during his talk.
It's sad and amazing that, after all these years, Targets remains as relevant today as it was the day it was released. It's not clear that Bogdanovich was making a direct statement about the times; the more likely statement would be about the state of movies, but it resonates better than most movies that feature this kind of plotting. Most importantly, the movie is a masterfully constructed suspense thriller that is one of the most impressive debut films ever made. It's too bad that, even after all these years, its owners don't deem it important enough for a fully restored, definitive release, but at least it's out there, which is the important thing.
Warner Bros. is guilty of price gouging, but Targets is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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