Dirty Harry History

January 6, 2008

This New York Times writeup reminds me that Zodiac was the best film that nobody saw in 2007. This film about the long, frustrating and ultimately fruitless investigation of the “Zodiac” murder spree of the late 1960s and early 1970s could almost be seen as David Fincher’s apology for SE7EN, the gruesome serial killer movie that put him on the commercial map in the 1990s — it’s measured and intelligent where SE7EN was hyperactive and stupid, realistic and probing where SE7EN was cartoonish and shallow. Zodiac is the kind of dense, demanding story that requires and rewards repeat viewings, and now that it’s out on DVD I expect the film’s reputation will grow with time.

As this fine interview at Ain’t It Cool News reminds us, the freaky, paranoid atmosphere around the Bay area while the Zodiac killer was at work directly influenced the success of the original Dirty Harry film, in which Harry Callahan tangled with a vicious killer who called himself Scorpio. In fact, the film’s success has apparently influenced the way the long investigation is remembered:

David Fincher: Remember, right in the middle of the investigation is when DIRTY HARRY came out. DIRTY HARRY was… that was a big movie and it was a seminal movie in terms of.. it was the first time the audiences embraced the notion that we could fight back against those people who would insight fear in us by being less than tolerant about how we were going to… You know, people’s roaring approval of Harry Callahan said a lot about where people were about Manson and Zodiac, but you know it’s weird that right in the middle of investigation, maybe I shouldn’t say middle, but eleven months into this investigation that somebody had already taken the thread of the story and turned it into fiction that was… It was a weird thing, too, that in the Bay Area, because it felt like after DIRTY HARRY came out, it felt like the case had been closed or that whenever you would talk to somebody, like 1974, I remember asking friends “What happened to the Zodiac…” “Oh, I think they shot him or something…”

Quint: “Dirty Harry got him!” David Fincher: Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t as lame as that, but it was nearly… It’s like “Yeah, I think he got it by the gravel pit..” because again I knew all of those locations, like where Dirty Harry jumps off that trestle into that gravel quarry that used to be out in Larkspur Landing. Now it’s this place you can go and get gourmet cookies and coffee and stuff, but it used to be this rock quarry that was literally a block from San Quentin.

If you look in that footage, San Quentin has its fences, cyclone fences, right at the point were he shoots Scorpio and that was right by San Quentin and so it became at the same time that kids are mythologizing the whole “Oh yeah, he climbed out of the tree like a spider dressed all in black and he had knives and he’d tie people up and he would slit their throats and stuff” and the whole thing had been changed into this bizarre superhero. You also had people by the mid seventies who were going “Yeah, they caught that guy in Bakersfield or something like that…” So when I got the script and I hadn’t read Graysmith’s books, when I got the script I was like “Oh my God, that’s what happened. It just fizzled out.”

Dirty Harry solved the Zodiac case. Talk about history lobotomized by Hollywood.

I think the same kind of self-lobotomization is going on right now among Iraq warwhores. In the fevered brains of Bill O’Reilly and William Kristol, Iraq has already become a cartoon landscape where superhero George W. Bush led the Justice League of the Willing to take out supervillain Saddam Hussein. During the New Hampshire Democratic debate, Charlie Gibson actually demanded that Hillary Clinton “admit” that the surge worked, even though the surge has failed even by the miserably low standards set by the Bushistas. I shudder to think of the grotesque distortions of memory in store for us over the years to come.

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One Response to “Dirty Harry History”

  1. Scott Stiefel Says:

    Hell, *I* saw it.


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