Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ACF Middlebrow #15: Die Hard

 

My friend Pete Spiliakos and I are doing our 10th podcast and it’s about a movie on its 30th anniversary. Die Hard is well-loved and little talked about — we’re here to remedy that. We discuss the great everyman performance Bruce Willis put in and how director John McTiernan crafted the entire movie around him. With remarkable coherence, you get a view of the working class moral realism and virtues of American men and, from that perspective, of the arrogant incompetent of all sorts of institutions: Corporations, media, government, police, etc. We also talk at length about the social changes that have made action movies almost inconceivable and replaced working class heroes with oligarchs and mythical aristocrats, who alone seem to deserve our attention and billions of box office dollars… This is what our Middlebrow series is all about: How movies reflect society and also reflect on our ideas and beliefs.

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  1. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera: With remarkable coherence, you get a view of the working class moral realism and virtues of American men and, from that perspective, of the arrogant incompetent of all sorts of institutions: Corporations, media, government, police, etc. We also talk at length about the social changes that have made action movies almost inconceivable and replaced working class heroes with oligarchs and mythical aristocrats, who alone seem to deserve our attention and billions of box office dollars…

    No offense, but … Pass. I hate subtext.

    It’s just a fun action movie.

     

     

    • #1
    • September 5, 2018, at 12:35 PM PDT
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  2. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus, did you forget to include the D/L link? SoundCloud seems to have an extra step for that and it happens a lot.

    • #2
    • September 5, 2018, at 12:35 PM PDT
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  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):

    Titus, did you forget to include the D/L link? SoundCloud seems to have an extra step for that and it happens a lot.

    Yup–thanks for pointing it out. Solved!

    • #3
    • September 5, 2018, at 12:38 PM PDT
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  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Titus Techera: With remarkable coherence, you get a view of the working class moral realism and virtues of American men and, from that perspective, of the arrogant incompetent of all sorts of institutions: Corporations, media, government, police, etc. We also talk at length about the social changes that have made action movies almost inconceivable and replaced working class heroes with oligarchs and mythical aristocrats, who alone seem to deserve our attention and billions of box office dollars…

    No offense, but … Pass. I hate subtext.

    It’s just a fun action movie.

    Dunno if it’s for you. I don’t mean subtext. When the movie shows you one of the villains is an

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    journalist who endangers people’s lives to put kids on TV–you know, for the human interest story…–that’s not subtle.

    When you see cokehead corporate raiders trying to negotiate with terrorists & dying over spilt Coke, well, I wouldn’t call it subtle or subtext.

    These are the sorts of things we’re talking about.

    Also, the movie was prescient about Waco & other happy-go-lucky FBI &c. moments of killing people in service to the public good…

    • #4
    • September 5, 2018, at 12:42 PM PDT
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  5. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “Ho, Ho, Ho now I have a machine gun”

    Subtext: The arming of the working classes endangers the rapacious capitalist enterprise of neoliberals as alluded to by Hand Gruber. 

    I’ll have to listen to this one Die Hard is a great movie, and a classic of the 1980s action genera which much like the fabled western of yore is basically extinct. 

    I’m curious though Titus how do you feel about movies like Taken or John Wick. Both of which had a kind of 80’s sensibility to their actionness. Granted neither is really a about a working class hero, but then again neither are all 80’s action movies. I think what makes the 80’s movies great is their simplicity and focus. Modern movies are too cluttered, and often end up dripping in computer generated special effects. They also tend to suffer from what I dub tourism advertising syndrome where they go on a sight seeing tour of various famous cities around the world. A movie just about a regular corporate building in LA? And it isn’t the tallest in the world or in an “exotic location”? How utterly novel by today’s standards. 

    I think much of this is driven by the rising importance of foreign releases and revenue for movies. 80’s movies were made for Americans, and maybe they did well over seas. Now half your revenue comes from foreign movie theaters. 

    My solution to this is simple have people try to make action movies that have two unbreakable rules. They can’t be over 90 minutes long and they can’t have a total budge bigger than 60 million. 

    • #5
    • September 5, 2018, at 1:14 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    I’m curious though Titus how do you feel about movies like Taken or John Wick. Both of which had a kind of 80’s sensibility to their actionness.

    Loved Taken. It’s a divorced dad movie, as my friend Pete says. Like Night at the museum; or Ant-man. Or The Santa Clause, at that time. Good idea, well done, & it had a certain working-class ethic to it. Protective, violent dad, not very productive, unlike the rich new husband & liberal mom…

    JW had good ideas. Second one is about damnation & how you cannot escape the evil you’ve done, even if you thought you were justified. God’s wrath is real. Not very well done. First one doesn’t seem to have anything as intelligent, but it’s significantly better done. Should have been a clear Gen-X will save Millennials story.

    Granted neither is really a about a working class hero, but then again neither are all 80’s action movies. I think what makes the 80’s movies great is their simplicity and focus. Modern movies are too cluttered, and often end up dripping in computer generated special effects. They also tend to suffer from what I dub tourism advertising syndrome where they go on a sight seeing tour of various famous cities around the world. A movie just about a regular corporate building in LA? And it isn’t the tallest in the world or in an “exotic location”? How utterly novel by today’s standards.

    You’d need clear-eyed writers who ask themselves: What could Americans love, if they dared hope? Who’s gonna get them screaming, Yeah!–Action is essentially a populist patriotic genre. Much could be done, but few dare do it. You’d also need directors who try damned hard to attract attention not by gimmicks, but by something else. Getting people to believe this action is real & has the moral urgency of the investment you’ve made in the character.

    I think much of this is driven by the rising importance of foreign releases and revenue for movies. 80’s movies were made for Americans, and maybe they did well over seas. Now half your revenue comes from foreign movie theaters.

    More than half to begin with; on most successes. More than two thirds on sequels. Worse still, sequels make more money & are even often more profitable. Death knell to clear-headed story-telling.

    My solution to this is simple have people try to make action movies that have two unbreakable rules. They can’t be over 90 minutes long and they can’t have a total budge bigger than 60 million.

    You may be on to something. We’re going B anyway. Since the 70s. We’re all B now. That’s Netflix. Why not make it work for action?

    • #6
    • September 5, 2018, at 1:22 PM PDT
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  7. Biden Pure Demagogue Inactive
    Biden Pure DemagogueJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    • #7
    • September 5, 2018, at 4:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Biden Pure Demagogue Inactive
    Biden Pure DemagogueJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    • #8
    • September 5, 2018, at 4:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Valiuth Inactive
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Taken is basically the best Father’s Day movie. 

    What I think made it and John Wick feel so much more classic action movie is how tight and simple their plots were. Good action movies aren’t complicated. All the characters are introduced in the first 15 minutes usaully the hook is set, the goal is made clear and then every action shown leads to that goal, once the goal is achieved the movie ends. Simple and satisfying like chicken soup.

    • #9
    • September 5, 2018, at 9:16 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    I think you’ve forgotten the other great action film of the late 80s. Lethal Weapon (1987). Its almost an exact formulation for Die Hard. I know due to production timelines Die Hard’s creative team could not have been (too heavily) influenced by the Lethal Weapon film. but its remarkable how similar the 2 films are.

    Die Hard did change the way American action films are made – they’re made in the style of Lethal Weapon. Does Lethal Weapon also deserve some love for breaking many of the same rules that Die Hard did, but the year before?

    Its a great discussion of Die Hard’s many nuances – but the most important question went unresolved – Is it a Christmas Movie?

    • #10
    • September 5, 2018, at 9:58 PM PDT
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  11. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    You may be on to something. We’re going B anyway. Since the 70s. We’re all B now. That’s Netflix. Why not make it work for action?

    You need a modern Golan and Globus. They made schlock, but they made a boatload of money because the movies were fun.

    • #11
    • September 5, 2018, at 10:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    I think you’ve forgotten the other great action film of the late 80s. Lethal Weapon (1987). Its almost an exact formulation for Die Hard. I know due to production timelines Die Hard’s creative team could not have been (too heavily) influenced by the Lethal Weapon film. but its remarkable how similar the 2 films are.

    Die Hard did change the way American action films are made – they’re made in the style of Lethal Weapon. Does Lethal Weapon also deserve some love for breaking many of the same rules that Die Hard did, but the year before?

    I’m a fan of Lethal Weapon. But I think Shane Black’s story is great, whereas Donner’s direction is not at all impressive. (But he may deserve real credit for making the story less 70s grim. Or whoever did that…)

    What made it worthwhile was pairing a middle-class man with a lower class superman, which American politics since Vietnam had made somewhat plausible, though that’s a movie closer to ’75, both for its Vietnam war characters & the cinema style, not ’87… It’s a bit Cosby-weird to have the middle-class guy be black, but in the 80s it worked.

    So what do you mean by breaking rules?

    • #12
    • September 5, 2018, at 11:15 PM PDT
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  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    It’s a bit Cosby-weird to have the middle-class guy be black, but in the 80s it worked.

    You do know most Black people in America are middle class, right?

     

    • #13
    • September 6, 2018, at 4:44 AM PDT
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  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    It’s a bit Cosby-weird to have the middle-class guy be black, but in the 80s it worked.

    You do know most Black people in America are middle class, right?

    No, I don’t. What do you mean? Are you judging this by income, equity, assets? Are you talking about the 80s or now?

    • #14
    • September 6, 2018, at 4:52 AM PDT
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  15. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    I’m a fan of Lethal Weapon. But I think Shane Black’s story is great, whereas Donner’s direction is not at all impressive. (But he may deserve real credit for making the story less 70s grim. Or whoever did that…)

    What made it worthwhile was pairing a middle-class man with a lower class superman, which American politics since Vietnam had made somewhat plausible, though that’s a movie closer to ’75, both for its Vietnam war characters & the cinema style, not ’87… It’s a bit Cosby-weird to have the middle-class guy be black, but in the 80s it worked.

    So what do you mean by breaking rules?

    I love both films, I’ve seen both of them dozens of times. To my eye, I cannot discern subtle post production work. I know nothing about editing techniques and film making generally. In my perception both films are very similar, and thus would have broken all the same traditions of earlier American action films.

    I’ll sometimes see a movie – think its great, and share this with someone, but have no idea who was in it. I’ll have to look up on wikipedia or IMDB to find out who was in it. I like to loose myself in the film when I see an actress on screen, I like to see the character not the actress – so that I am not distracted by all the gossip I’ve heard about an actress. The best example that comes to mind was “Zorro” … I’d seen the film and was telling my co-works about how great this film is, and must be seen… They asked me about Cathline Zeta Jones … I said “Who?”

    That is where I am – an uninformed observer and fan.

    In Lethal Weapon, I see both detectives as equals – but one man has had his life destroyed by the untimely death of his wife. They could be a before and after cautionary posters on alcoholism. Riggs ultimately saves Murtaugh’s family and redeems himself. (Spoiler Alert!) I could almost think as Riggs as being in the mold of “Han Solo” (the original Harrison Ford version) the lost soul who redeems himself in the final act of the movie. Maybe thats a stretch.

    • #15
    • September 6, 2018, at 7:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    LW should be understood as a song of grief. There’s this guy who came back from Vietnam pretty screwed up, but was redeemed by the love of a good woman. Then she died. What’s he gonna do but what he’s really, really good at? Mel Gibson did a bang-up job of showing that the man enjoys being excellent & the civilian world drives him crazy, because there’s no place for him & people worry all the time about the most meaningless things. The psycho-drama of suicide–jumping from the building–is all about that. But there’s no one to pull him out of his own drama. Life has taken everything he had. Being a man fit for war, it’s not hard to slip from willingness to risk one’s life to actually courting death. America looks at him & blinks.

    At the end of the story, he can grieve. He can go to his wife’s grave. He’s not suicidal anymore.

    What’s changed? Well, part of it is the middle-class experience. It can remind him of home & childhood (he’s playful at Chez Murtaugh), as well as let him see what he’s never going to have, since he’s a widower. (Trailer by the beach is not a home.) Happily for him, they’re in mortal danger, so he can do what’s he’s excellent at & be praised for it! What would he do if what they needed was boring, reliable, reassuring help?

    The other part is the dead woman. He avenges a murdered woman–meanwhile, you see another guy’s life torn apart by the death of his daughter, who consents to his own destruction because he knows he’s scum, since he neither protected her nor avenged her…

    The story gives Riggs a psycho-drama he can actually live with. It gives meaning to suffering, for once. It allows him to walk away from it once it’s done.

    • #16
    • September 6, 2018, at 11:58 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Judge Mental Member

    Have you seen the extended version, where they have restored a couple of deleted sequences reinforcing his extreme willingness to take risks?

    • #17
    • September 7, 2018, at 12:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Biden Pure Demagogue Inactive
    Biden Pure DemagogueJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Have you seen the extended version, where they have restored a couple of deleted sequences reinforcing his extreme willingness to take risks?

    Link?

    • #18
    • September 7, 2018, at 4:45 AM PDT
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  19. Judge Mental Member

    Senior Non White House Official (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Have you seen the extended version, where they have restored a couple of deleted sequences reinforcing his extreme willingness to take risks?

    Link?

    It’s the entire movie. (Lethal Weapon, in case there’s confusion.) The extra scenes are on the DVD.

    • #19
    • September 7, 2018, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):

    Titus, did you forget to include the D/L link? SoundCloud seems to have an extra step for that and it happens a lot.

    Yup–thanks for pointing it out. Solved!

    Thank you! Got it now.

    • #20
    • September 8, 2018, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Judge Mental Member

    You said something like, that as they break into the vault, you suddenly get the Ode to Joy. Actually, it’s been there through the movie, always associated with Hans Gruber.

    In the symphony, that theme is repeated four times, with the instrumentation becoming more elaborate with each. The first is nothing more than the low end strings, cellos and violas. This version first appears with the arrival of Hans and the gang. The fourth repetition, with the full orchestration of a triumphal march, is the one used when the vault opens, followed by the Turkish March variation just after that.

    I’ll have to watch again to see if the second and third versions appear, but I won’t be surprised if I hear them.

    • #21
    • September 8, 2018, at 10:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Judge Mental Member

    Did you see a movie from 5-10 years ago called Law Abiding Citizen? In plot, it’s similar to the Jennifer Garner vehicle being released this weekend, family killed by criminals, failure of the justice system, wronged party takes revenge on both.

    Gerard Butler plays an inventor, successful enough to be wealthy but not rich, whose family is killed. He has ten years to plan his revenge and enough wealth to carry out his plans. That should have been enough, and there is nothing that he does that couldn’t have been done by such a guy.

    But nope, you find out that he used o be a CIA ‘brain’. Not an agent; ‘agents are a dime a dozen’. This is a superman. In describing him, they might as well have had R. Lee Ermey talking about Steven Seagal.

     

    • #22
    • September 8, 2018, at 10:27 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Judge Mental Member

    One more point to remember: nowadays, people think of Bruce Willis as an action movie star. At the time this movie came out, people were laughing at the idea. He was only known for light, romantic comedy (Moonlighting) before that.

    • #23
    • September 8, 2018, at 10:48 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Judge Mental Member

    Watching now, I had forgotten. The Ode to Joy is playing at the party; I think they have a string quartet.

    And I already remembering from just the first few minutes… much of the incidental music is done as variations on that theme, so it’s not quite Beethoven, but still recognizable.

    • #24
    • September 8, 2018, at 10:53 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Watching now, I had forgotten. The Ode to Joy is playing at the party; I think they have a string quartet.

    And I already remembering from just the first few minutes… much of the incidental music is done as variations on that theme, so it’s not quite Beethoven, but still recognizable.

    Yeah. McTiernan now & then pretended he didn’t even know who Beethoven was or the 9th. Americans running away from artistry accusations…

    • #25
    • September 8, 2018, at 11:30 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Yes, I know LAC. I rather like the movie. But I agree that the superman idea is nuts. So also the idea of having him be super-muscular.

    It could have been a great tough brainy guy tragedy done upside down–one of America’s supermen brought to horror by suffering. Like Apocalypse now–podcast comes in a week or two…

    • #26
    • September 8, 2018, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Yes, I know LAC. I rather like the movie. But I agree that the superman idea is nuts. So also the idea of having him be super-muscular.

     

    I liked it as well. But the CIA angle jarred. It served no purpose; there was nothing he did that required that aspect.

    • #27
    • September 8, 2018, at 11:43 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Yes, I know LAC. I rather like the movie. But I agree that the superman idea is nuts. So also the idea of having him be super-muscular.

     

    I liked it as well. But the CIA angle jarred. It served no purpose; there was nothing he did that required that aspect.

    The super-knowledge to plan everything on every level from poison to international finance.

    It’s also insane…

    Would that the CIA had any such competences. There would have been no 9/11…

    • #28
    • September 8, 2018, at 11:56 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Oh, the days when Seagal saved environmentalism by causing a massive oil rig explosion & subsequent fire!

    • #29
    • September 8, 2018, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Oh, the days when Seagal saved environmentalism by causing a massive oil rig explosion & subsequent fire!

    Plus the speech at the end. That one is more insufferable than most.

    • #30
    • September 8, 2018, at 12:18 PM PDT
    • 1 like

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