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UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

Directed, written and produced by: William Peter Blatty

Based on The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty

Starring: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Robert Loggia, Moses Gunn, Joe Spinell, Neville Brand etc.

Music by: Barry De Vorzon

Cinematography: Gerry Fisher

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

Sparked by uber-film critic Mark Kermode waxing lyrical about The Ninth Configuration (1980) in one of his cinema books, I was extremely pleased when I found a remastered 2016 reissue streaming on Amazon Prime. I don’t always agree with Kermode’s effusive praise of certain films, however, his opinion should always be respected. Having watched the film I can concur that it is indeed an under-rated classic. Just to clarify, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Must not have won an Oscar.
  2. Must not have won a BAFTA.
  3. Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  4. Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  5. Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  6. Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

While the writer and director, William Peter Blatty, won a Golden Globe for best screenplay, I feel that The Ninth Configuration (1980) is somewhat of a lost masterpiece. It was released at the same time as Ordinary People (1980) , The Elephant Man (1980) and Raging Bull (1980) and rarely seems to be discussed or praised at all these days. Well, aside from Mark Kermode’s gratefully received validation. Thematically, it is very strong as it deals with mental breakdown and illness amidst soldiers post-Vietnam. Moreover, it also contains memorable iconography within a curiously foreboding setting.



Based on Blatty’s 1978 novel, which in itself was a reworking of an earlier story called, Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane, The Ninth Configuration centres the action in a grand chateau located, rather weirdly in America somewhere. The dark, shadowy castle (which was actually in Germany), is surrounded by deep forestation and is used by the U.S. government as an insane asylum for military personnel. Spring-boarding themes and ideas from movies such as: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Mash (1970) and, in regards to its exploration of P.T.S.D., The Deer Hunter (1978), the narrative features a whole host of eccentric and over-the-edge characters. They include an Astronaut, Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who went mad and sabotaged a space launch, Jason Miller as Lieutenant Frankie Reno, a soldier attempting to direct Hamlet with a cast of dogs; and the recently arrived, new psychiatrist, Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacey Keach). It is Kane’s and Cutshaw’s developing relationship which powers many of the philosophical and existential debates within the film’s incredible script.

For a film set in an asylum Blatty unsurpisingly uses dark humour, hysterical personalities and some incredibly funny lines of dialogue to propel an absurd first half. However, as Cutshaw and Kane’s connection grows deeper, the two men push each other into some very dark places. Exploring the slight gap between insanity and sanity is a tricky thing to get right in terms of tone, however, Blatty, is a brilliant writer and succeeds with a script that zig-zags the line between chaos and structure. He also benefits from an amazing ensemble cast of character actors who throw themselves heartily into the chaos on show. Scott Wilson and Stacey Keach are especially memorable in their intense and honest portrayals of soldiers pushed too far by their respective commands.

Overall, The Ninth Configuration (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece which deserves revisiting. I was blown away by the endlessly quotable dialogue and the risks Blatty took as a director. I mean, he opens with an incongruous Country and Western song-backed montage before the credits. This pop video beginning is jarring, but somehow makes sense in the end. Blatty then veers between farcical humour, crazed episodes involving the lunatics taking over the asylum, and philosophical and theological discourse within the therapy sessions. Finally, the film finishes with a violent and cathartic denouement, yet one which, given the dark existentialism that has unfolded, is amazingly full of hope, faith and optimism.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11




TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE #1

Decided to take a slight break from the cultural reviews and focus on what I hope to be a series of occasional “life” reviews. Because if you hadn’t noticed it’s a terrible world out there so you have try and focus on the positives.

The world is full of: war, famine, disease, murder, racism, vengeance, death, bullying, fundamentalism, politics, madness, drones, bombs, guns, suicide, depression and general political, media and religious negativity. Indeed, things can seem pretty shitty sometimes so it’s important to think about the things in life that make it worthwhile. They could be big or small but they make one happy, bring a smile or just simply take you away for a time from the general horrors of existence.

So, for starters, here are ten things that make my life worth living.

Dogs in Pubs

I love drinking in pubs and I also love dogs too. So, when I see a dog in a pub I feel immensely happy. Not sure why but a dog in a pub always brings a smile to my face, warming the cockles of my heart in the process – although that could be the alcohol!

Chinese Food

I know it’s probably really bad for you but the joy I get from overdosing on fat, sugar and salt, along with the other ingredients is just awesome. In my extreme over-eating days of the past Chinese food was my crack; I just couldn’t get enough and still cannot. I’m just far more disciplined than I once was.

The Sea

Who knows why but I love the sea? I don’t enjoy frying my skin in the sun but more standing on the beach or on coastal terrain and looking out at the vast water ahead of me and hearing the waves lap against the sand or stones. It makes me feel calm and collected and relaxed. Maybe it symbolises escape yet also protection too. Wonderful!

Cinema

Going to see a film is still one of my favourite things to do. I’ve said this before but it’s like going to church for me; except perhaps the stories aren’t as far-fetched as the one’s in the Bible. Sitting there in the dark, staring at a big screen waiting for the film to start, brings about an enormous sense of well-being; and it always will.

Love

What is love: a complex chemical reaction in the body; a means to exploit humanity via a romantic concept; an emotional response based on strong feelings for family or someone you are attracted to; or a con-trick by nature to get us to pro-create? I love my family and recently I met someone and can thus testify that love is a hearty escapade. The Beatles sang, “All you need is Love!” Well, you need air, water and food too but love’s definitely on the list of life’s essentials too. However fleeting it may be – grab it if you can!

The Boy

I have a teenage son and I must admit that being a parent is bloody hard work. There is no pause. When you have a child the mind never closes down thinking about them, hoping you are doing the right thing and they do not come to harm. You have a great responsibility but one that enriches your life and makes you a much better and mature person. I wouldn’t want more than one child but he’s a bright, funny and interesting character and someone I could not be without.

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Hamsters

Your basic Syrian hamster is the greatest pet you can have. They are cute, self-reliant and funny little creatures who for some reason make me smile. I’m not one for the big responsibility of a dog or cat or more children so a hamster is the best pet you could get in my opinion.

Ham Sandwiches

I love a ham sandwich. Placing a bit of thinly sliced pork in between two slices of bread is one of the simple pleasures in life. Putting too much butter on it also adds to the flavour and an occasional suggestion of lettuce or tomato can sprinkle some flavour. Crusty bread is best but your basic soft-sliced-starchy white bread will suffice too.

Not being at Work

You wake up in the morning and you realise you DON’T HAVE to go to work. You have a day or days off!  I love that feeling! And I don’t mean being unemployed because that in itself can be depressing and leave you skint. Yet the emotion of knowing you have escaped the rat race for the day is a boon to anyone’s life chi. It’s like scoring the winner in a football match – but for ordinary people!

Beer

I have in the past been an excessive drinker of epic proportions and had some bloody good times too. However, the colossal hangovers have hung heavy within my history so I have tempered the functional alcoholism of my 30s and am now a mildly successful moderate drinker (once or twice a week) now. I love the taste and smell and buzzy feeling I get from having a few pints in a social situation and long may it continue; in moderation of course.

Cheers to all of you! Have a lovely weekend! And be nice to everyone!

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