Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter / U.S., 1976):

"Bitterness and disenchantment crack the classical cement," says Rivette of the modern filmmaker's relationship to Hawks, and here's John Carpenter at work with an exquisite jackhammer. A handheld camera on a ghetto ambush (culminating in shotgun blasts from above) registers the ingrown battle lines (cp. The Battle of Algiers), an eventful Saturday in South Los Angeles is the trajectory traced with clean, hard lines. The rookie lieutenant (Austin Stoker), the jailbird named Napoleon (Darwin Joston) and the drive-in Bacall (Laurie Zimmer), brought together at the stripped-down police station for "a goddamn siege." The gangland foes enact blood oaths and move with robotic ruthlessness; a distraught father gets in a vengeful shot and leads them to the disused outpost, teamwork is the only hope for survival at the barricades. "You wanna be a hero on your first night out?" "Yes, sir!" Half-empty streets at noon are all that's available to suggest the urban wasteland, yet a pellucid mastery of technique is at once established as the barrel of a rifle creeps out of the window of a moving car to fill the Panavision screen. From there, it's the steady creation of an impromptu community out of notations from Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo, Once Upon a Time in the West, Night of the Living Dead and numerous others, until the tessitura is not unlike Borges ("The Night of the Gifts," say). Movie-buff stances (sardonic impudence, deadpan smokiness, etc.), "pressure on the atmosphere," beautifully rarefied effects out of severe action—characters throwing guns to each other, an extended sonata of bullets shredding a bureaucratic office, the striking of a match, a pigtailed moppet's vanilla ice cream exploding in tandem with the squib in her beige dress. "You think you're real fancy, don't you?" "I have moments." The Carpenter iciness soon finds its ideal realm in horror, here in the middle of the void there's still room for the sanguine miracle of different people banding together. Cinematography by Douglas Knapp. With Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, and Nancy Loomis.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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