Friday, 22 July 2011


We’ve forgotten about the old gods, the gods of the wind and oceans; the forests and rivers. But if we’ve forgotten about them, they haven’t forgotten about us. They just choose to ignore us; but they are watchful in their slumber. Sometimes, perhaps, the old gods dream of us.

The problem with the old gods, is that when they decide to take their drowsy action, they are not at all discerning. They don’t really care who gets in the way; and why should they? As far as they are concerned, we’re none of us innocent. They don’t answer questions, those old gods; the judgement is final and if the little people get in the way, it’s too bad.

An atrocity is occurring and as usual, mankind is at the bottom of it. Mankind is damming the beautiful Cahulawassee River. Mankind, in the form of the power company, is going to turn the beautiful river, with its rapids, woodlands and panoramic views, into a dull, flat lake. 

It will be a rape; a desecration. It is sacrilegious.

“Deliverance”, really is one of the great suspense films. And without being too fanciful, I do have that chilling sensation that something else is at work here. Whether that something else, is a manifestation of those old, primitive gods taking vengeance, or simply a group of city guys totally out of their depth, in the face of a world where the normal rules of civilisation don’t apply, I don’t know. But you do get the feeling that you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Maybe it’s the camera angles, maybe it’s the use of light and shade. But the hair stands up on the back of your neck; a primal reaction to the something that is creeping up behind you.

It’s been a while since I first saw it, but I watched John Boorman’s 1972 film, of James Dickey’s novel, “Deliverance”, last week. I hadn’t forgotten how good it is, but I had sort of forgotten about some memorable performances and stunning direction. I needed to remind myself of the chilling impact that the film had on me when I first saw it.

We join “Deliverance” at the point where four friends plan on a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River. The four are in high spirits; there is a sadness that the beauty that they see before them, will soon disappear, but apart from Lewis, a weekend “survivalist”, played by Burt Reynolds, they bow to the inevitable.

In his review of “Deliverance”, Steve Rhodes informs;
“The movie opens disarmingly as Drew, played by Ronnie Cox, plays a good-spirited, impromptu duet with a young, backwoods, mountain boy playing his banjo. This hauntingly tranquil banjo music will reappear periodically during the film, as will scenes of the placid sections of the river. And there will be peaceful shots of roaring campfires and of the river at twilight, all to provide sharp contrast to the horror of their journey.

Different rules apply, out in the wilds of Georgia; they are far away from the tame influence of modern civilisation. Ironically that's exactly the quality that attracts the four urban businessmen of James Dickey's novel, the chance to pit themselves against Nature. Of course what they want is not actual risk but its semblance, a taster sharp enough to remind them that they're alive”.

Anything could happen -- and does.

Steve Rhodes continues;
“It's a palpable sensation, a horror so intense you want to curl into a foetal ball. The cast really does a superb job of communicating their terror, the certainty that they're mixed up in something beyond their comprehension. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, as Ed, take the ultimate honours in this, modulating themselves through the full gamut of emotion, moving from excitement to happiness to panic to grim desperation. Yet at the same time “Deliverance” never loses sight of their roots, the cultural decency that becomes something of a liability in this sort of situation. Ned Beatty, as Bobby Trippe and Ronnie Cox very nearly attain the same heights, with the former, central to one of the most harrowing scenes in any '70s film. Several times Boorman leaves you open-mouthed in shock, stunned at the enormity of what you're witnessing, yet the actors are good enough to make the material hit home without numbing. This is a world turned upside-down and they're living through it.

In his review, Damian Cannon tells us;
“Dickey's narrative is carefully structured for maximum impact, an effect enhanced in Deliverance by Tom Priestley's well-judged editing. The pace picks up with the film's memorable banjo duel and never lets up, not once. The characters are supremely ordinary and the cast, in a fine acting style, makes them believably naive. Thrust into the real-life Tallulah Gorge, the peril that they're in, barely seems fictional, thanks to the awesome camerawork of Vilmos Zsigmond. In his hands the river springs to life, toying with these unwise canoeists, pondering whether it should be merciful or merciless. Around these four there is scenery of intense hue and shade, a backdrop mighty enough to awe a brave man into weeping; yet they don't see it, so consumed are they by the desire to survive. It seems as though the hellish ordeal will never end, and in some ways it never does.

From start to finish, “Deliverance” is a film of rare power, focused towards a single end. It throbs with tension and fear, a reaction to the forces arrayed against our weekend paddlers. As the drama unfolds, Dickey skilfully guides you into contact with the characters, understanding their motivations. The four, Lewis and Ed leading, are well balanced, providing everything that the film requires. Merely watching them paddle, gaining confidence from their rapid-shooting success, is a delight. When the hillbilly conflict arrives, from the merest bad timing, it propels the film onto another level; yet the battle is mostly psychological, there's barely any contact between the two sides. This is where John Boorman's direction astonishes, in his conjuring of menace from thin air. He doesn't need to show us the danger, only the suggestion”.

1972 is a long time ago, but “Deliverance” is still an important, iconic film. Its indictment is profound and powerful. The accusation makes us tremble, because we know that we are all guilty.

“In 2008, “Deliverance” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.” WIKI

This review was put together using sources from the Web.

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