FF46 - The Deer Hunter

Intro by John Roderick

Christopher Walken pops up in this podcast a lot, mostly because anytime Adam attempts a foreign accent or an impersonation of any actor it sounds like Christopher Walken impression, but now on the heels of Walken's head-scratching tone-shattering appearance in Biloxi Blues he appears again in the head-scratching skull-shattering Deerhunter, an embarrassment of riches to be sure. You've heard of this film even if you haven't seen it because it's right at the top of the list of movies people have heard of but haven't seen. This is the movie for people who thought the wedding scene in the Godfather could have gone on for another hour, if only it hadn't wasted all that time introducing us to the Godfather. A side effect of watching this movie is that you are now actually married to Meryl Streep in the eyes of the Russian Orthodox Church. Also: You are now a disabled Vietnam vet.

But critics loved this movie and that had some hilarious Hollywood consequences: Michael Cimino, the director, came off of making this 1978 Behemoth with such a sterling reputation as a filmmaking genius that United Artists wrote him a blank cheque to make his Western Heaven's Gate a legendary suck fest you've also probably heard of but not seen, which lost almost $40 million at the box office, destroyed Cimino's career and napalmed the entire auteur-driven filmmaking cult of the 1970s, leading to an abrupt crash of the director's wearing jackets with epaulettes industry and a sudden influx of 1980s studio driven films with talking cars and combat-Tarzans wearing G-strings as shirts that Adam and Ben wrongly insist are the high watermark of American filmmaking.

This is where the path to that flaming waterfall began and if you want to see what it looks like when a director has almost totally unlimited control of a film and absolutely did not write anything down beforehand, this is our case study. Vietnam is supposedly the backdrop, although we have to live through the entire early 160s in real time first. Our characters are all Russian American, which seems like it should symbolize something but apparently doesn't. They live in the penumbra of the Rust Belt where the local steel mill provides all the jobs and no-one can foresee that the looming decline of American manufacturing will shutter this plant in ten years. It will destroy this entire town in 20 and bulldoze the whole valley and replace it with a Cracker Barrel and a Zappos fulfillment center in 35.

But for now, these hometown boys like to drink and hunt deer and give the hairy eyeball to strangers who stopped for gas. We spent a lot of time establishing that these are the halcyon days which are also awful days because people in Pennsylvania can't be happy in movies. Life is a drunken garbage barge and the only nice thing is that maybe you fall in love with Meryl Streep and then that makes you miserable.

Our three main male characters are all headed off to war, but before they go, one of them is getting married. This world famous wedding scene is breathtaking, replete with real blue collar Russian Orthodox extras who actually partied for days on end making this movie, doing jumping dances and juggling hammers and shooting squirrels and beavers and generally acting like they were at her real Russian wedding. I'm not sure why Cimino needed this sequence to be an hour long, except, well he had epaulettes on his jacket and he never wrote a script and he didn't know how to edit, but it is at the very least an amazing thing that benefits from repeat viewings if for no other reason than to watch these drunk steelworkers in the background who have forgotten they are in a movie.

Well then our heroes ship off to war and we are teleported into the future where De Niro is a fully formed Special Forces bad ass. His buddies are just regular GIs, but coincidentally run into him just in time to be captured together and imprisoned by the Viet Cong. That setup is complicated and completely unnecessary, but look: As I said before: I'm not an auteur, so I can only witness in awe. The Vietnamese are depicted as machine gunning women and babies and dropping grenades into bunkers full of screaming children and torturing each other and captive soldiers for entertainment in a makeshift river jail, which gives the impression that if there was a script it was written in crayon by James Woods.

The game of Russian roulette is introduced, again a totally made up plot device, but one that actually maybe does work as a metaphor for war? Well, we wrestle with that. Anyway: Lots of scary scenes that leave everyone damaged and brutalized, including us the hosts, but except for the superhuman De Niro. The three heroes are separated and the film follows De Niro back home on leave. The town seems changed and over the next few hours of the film we learn Walken is still in country, making fat stacks on the lucrative Vietnamese Russian Roulette circuit that he then guiltily mails back to John Savage at the VA hospital. De Niro goes back Nam to try to buy Walken's freedom, but Walken puts a revolver to his head in what was presumably his 400th and final game and blows his brains out. This all means something about the horrors of war. The film ends on a funeral reception where everyone sings God Bless America and we are left wondering what the other options for an ending were. Well that's the plot.

The film was a big deal when it came out because everyone was stoned in the 1970s and I'm sure it felt to them like something profound had transpired, like: "Have you ever thought about the term rear view mirror? Like: Aren't all mirrors rear view?" Anyway, it landed Oscars for Best Picture and Director along with a slew of other wins and nominations, most notably for Meryl Streep who is genuinely great in this film and was just kicking off her run of most-nominated-of-all-time-ness. You want to play games? All right, I'll play your fucking games! Today on Friendly Fire: The Deer Hunter.

John working at The Off Ramp (FF46)

For the movie Deer Hunter they built a real tavern and left it for the steel workers to use afterwards. The movie Singles on the other hand was filmed in an existing Rock club called The Off Ramp in Seattle, the venue where The Shitty Beatles would have played when they came to town and where John was working at the time. They completely rebuilt it into a much cooler Rock club full of 50-gallon (190 l) drums with fire in them. While they were filming the movie in there, John and his colleagues got an involuntary week’s vacation and afterwards they ripped it all out and returned it to the shitty Rock Club it was before. The only thing they left were walls and walls of Citizen Dick posters all over the venue and for weeks afterwards John would come to work and be ”Fucking Citizen Dick! Come on!”, but gradually people ripped them all down.

John’s group of friends in High School (FF46)

John grew up in the smallest town of the three of them and Ben and Adam wondered if you really have a choice in who your friends are when the town is that small. John confirmed that your friends in that situation are more friends of circumstance instead of people really liking each other. This podcast is all the proof you need that you don’t get to choose your friends. You meet some fucking dingelings down the road and then they are still with you 15 years later and you wonder how this happened. Adam and Ben are like a couple of Barnacles clinging to the hull of the good ship Roderick.

John went to a big High School and his group of friends coalesced pretty obviously because of mutual interest and ability. In college John the guys who had rooms on his floor in the dorm were his friends. He met some girls who liked to smoke pot and the people who knew those girls became his friends and he is still friends with them all today, but he didn’t go looking for them, it was just that these were his people. In a town like in the movie, you are just friends with the guys you went to High School with.

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