SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Spoiler notes on the real life events that inspired this movie follow at the end of the review - watch before reading!

London, March 2011, and I was at the British Film Institute (BFI) on the South Bank to see one of my favourite directors - Nicolas Roeg, introduce the quite startling and disturbing, exotic and earthy (also very beautiful and romantic) rarely screened movie: Eureka (1983). This stars Gene Hackman as a gold prospector in 1925 that gets lucky. Or very unlucky - when the local criminal fraternity target this man's new found wealth and penchant for showing off. Luck, like wealth, is clearly a dirty word here.

Early performances from Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, and the mighty Joe Pesci help make this movie a standout. Roeg directed many of my favourite films: Walkabout, Don't Look Now, Bad Timing, Performance, Track 29, Castaway, Man Who Fell To Earth, Puffball . . You come out of the cinema feeling quite loose of sanity and uncertain of reality whenever you go to see a Roeg movie. Not many directors can do this to you. I'm thinking maybe: Tarantino (Pulp Fiction on a big screen can blow your mind) and Lynch (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has an almost hallucinogenic effect) especially - but not many. Ken Russell too, of course (Crimes of Passion with Anthony Perkins is almost delirious).

When Jack McCann (Gene Hackman) finds gold in 'Eureka' - so much gold he swims in icy rivers laced with the stuff - in the Arctic in 1925, he oozes wealth above all comprehension and soon has his own holiday home in the sun (well, actually a mansion on a private island in the Carribean, where he hands out golden nuggets at the dinner table to all who pop round to dinner).

McCann carries around a mystical stone that saved his life in the Arctic, but it soon starts to crack and lose its unnatural glow as a storm brews, voodoo rites start up and local gangsters start closing in - headed by Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci (who lords over the dodgy dealings and beatings from a distance). Meanwhile, Hackman's beautiful daughter, Tracy (played by the enigmatic and lovely Theresa Russell who appears in many of Roeg's movies), drapes herself on her boyfriend's yacht (Rutger Hauer as the creepy but bored, violent and pathetic Claude Maillot Van Horn) - naked, except for lashings of gold in a hugely erotic scene, but shot from a distance from outside the bedroom door, Roeg's camera every inch the voyeur.

Sinister events and rapidly unfolding tragedy just seem to close in on Jack McCann, all alone in his lonely mansion on an island in the middle of a storm; predators of the human kind shuffling out of exotic undergrowth towards his house - daughter, friend, wife, gangster, daughter's boyfriend. Who does what to who, doesn't really matter, as it is all (by this point) entirely expected that something has to break - but also startling and bloody and like nothing you've seen or thought before.

The film finishes on a long trial sequence that features an uninhibited performance from Russell on the witness stand that some critics hated. Admittedly, it goes on too long, and is a letdown only in that the previous hour has been one of such utter, delicious extravagance - but some time after watching the film, it makes more sense to have a comedown from all the excess; it mirrors, perhaps, the shocking comedown from the trappings of power and wealth that Jack McCann experienced.

Regarding the previous hour's (pre-courtroom sequence) visual excess, be prepared to be stunned by such inspired scenes shot by Roeg as that which takes us right inside a moonlit snowglobe; our lives at the mercy of fate and the (always somewhere) more powerful people that shake the world around us. Or the sequence in which Hackman strikes gold in an ice tunnel and a great gush of sudden wealth overwhelms him and sends him back up to the surface, breaking through the overhead ice and slush like a gold-plated newborn baby - a scene that represents the man's financial rebirth even if not, ultimately, of fortune.

As Roeg himself said wistfully to a packed auditorium at the BFI in his introduction to the film's screening - there are more members of the audience in the cinema tonight than got to see the movie when it was first released! It's a shame, Eureka is a true golden nugget in a most glittering career. There's absolutely no fool's gold on show here.

words: mark gordon palmer


'Eureka' is based on the true - and still unsolved - murder in 1945 of gold prospector Sir Harry Oakes. The film shows the main suspects creeping in on the fearful man, implying that the murder could have been carried out by just about anyone known to him. This is a whodunit without a proper resolution. There is a focus in the movie though on Oakes's son-in-law - Claude Maillot Van Horn being involved in some way and the local crime syndicate bearing full responsibility.

Claude, it's implied, seems happy to just watch the violence taking place, instead of try to save Harry (or even try to kill him). Maybe therefore he was aware of what was happening and by not acting, as good as supported - or even wanted - the murder. Or was he too terrified to get involved?

It is hinted at the end of Roeg's movie that the son-in-law was more of a man caught up in circumstance; a man that 'would/ could have done, rather than did' and is unlikely to have been the killer in the room himself. Van Horn is found not guilty but still deported for - 'being of a violent nature'.

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