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November 14, 2013


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Jason LaRiviere

and, of course, the greatest film to ever feature motorized decapitation by wire is Fellini's TOBY DAMMIT (1968).


There was an episode of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett where a woman got decapitated via wire while riding on a horse. Also, I really enjoyed this review.


I haven't seen The Counselor, but the commercials featured the motorcyclist and the wire prominently enough to make it obvious that this happens. I guess I just took it for granted that something like this might work, or at least seriously f**k someone up. But I wonder if there is a real-life corollary. This post reminds me of Eric Schlosser's "Reefer Madness", which had a section on pot-dealers, particularly those that would conceal their weed in the middle of big wheat farms. To protect their crops from "pot pirates" who'd go into the fields and try to make off with the weed, the growers would apparently string fish hooks on piano wire within the fields, presumably for pirates to get fingers or maybe even an eye caught on them.


As I said on Twitter, in an episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, called (I've since leanred) "Barney's Sidecar," Aunt Bee briefly toys with the idea of stringing a wire across the road to take out a more-infuriating-than-usual Barney Fife. She said she'd seen this done in a World War II movie. This episode aired in 1964.

Boom. That just happened.

(Also, THE COUNSELOR is a great movie, one of the best of the year, Cameron Diaz IS pretty bad in it, don't see the misogyny, is it misogyny when, etc. You know the drill)

Glenn Kenny

Bill, the misogyny question is I guess what you'd call an interesting one and God knows I don't wanna be one of those hyperactive liberals who scream "sexist" at every unpleasant portrayal of a woman. HOWEVER. If your scenario leans toward (spoiler alert!) a depiction of ultimate evil (or even amorality, what you will) in female form, and said female form's sexuality is also depicted as arguably aberrant, well in my book you might be skating on somewhat thin ice in the misogyny department. That said, Diaz's lousy performance actually encourages such an interpretation.


If this was something that Scott or McCarthy did on a regular basis then I'd have no choice but to agree with you. But as this is one film that includes one female character that falls into that category, the only conclusion I can come to is that this is simply one character, and that while absolutely exaggerated for effect probably has some kind of real world counterpart. Not as a specific basis for invention, but in the sense that there are lots of pretty terrible people in the world, particularly connected to the kind of world under inspection in THE COUNSELOR.

Furthermore, while it would be easy to argue that Penelope Cruz's character simply fills out the "Madonna/whore" concept, I think the (spoiler!) tragedy of her character, and I also think this is a key to the whole film, isn't that she's a very sweet *woman*, specifically, but that she's a very sweet human being, or anyway a very NORMAL human being, who through no fault of her own suffers the consequences of Fassbender's (spoiler!) greed. She's a stand-in for everybody not associated with this kind of evil but who fear crossing the wrong person. Pitt's line "Think about that the next time you do a line" is everything here.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Is this a good place to complain about Cormac McCarthy? 'Cause god am I sick of his pompous, empty writing! He's like what a literature hater thinks literature is like: genre plots wrapped in prose so self-regarding that neither story nor character gets a glance, delivered with plenty of deliberate dissatisfaction to remind you that this is supposed to be Ahhhhht, not something you enjoy. Credit where do, though, he did manage to do something I thought was impossible: inspire the Coen brothers to make a boring movie.


So when I've enjoyed McCarthy's books, I was simply lying to myself?

That Fuzzy Bastard

Well, probably not lying to yourself, but the idea of someone finishing No Country without indignation (or reading The Road without a constant eye-roll) is like being told that there are people out there who enjoy steamed broccoli without salt. Like, I know it's theoretically possible, but...

Glenn Kenny

Hey, that gives me an idea for a SONG! "Nobody can lie to you/better than you can lie to yourself/No one can be less true/"...oh God, what rhymes with "self" that isn't "shelf"...or "elf"...dammit


So basically McCarthy writes like a dry academic. I must say this has been very illuminating.

Fredrik Gustafsson

If I remember correctly, in FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE (the Harrison Ford-starring, Guy Hamilton-directed sequel to THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) a German officer who has the habit of standing up in his car is decapitated by a wire strung between two trees by Serbian partisans (or some such men).


The EddieMarsAttack reference to a Sherlock Holmes murder may have been misremembering the premiere episode of the distinguished FOYLE'S WAR series, wherein the piano-wired equestrienne is a German aristocrat barely tolerated in 1939 England.


The only "distinguished" aspect of 'Foyle's War' is the glacier-slow pace with which every episode serves up its WWII-era nostalgia, but I digress...

Sylvain L.

And the most moving scene of death by wire (though not on wheels) being Twixt, where Coppola reconstituted the real-life accident that lead to the death of his son while referencing both Fellini and Poe, as if his son was dead like the daughter of his protagonist (Baltimore) who, her, died like a protagonist in a Poe's novel as seen by Fellini, the whole scene being shown like a scene in a movie with Poe standing as a spectator helping Baltimore see what he cannot see by himself, a referential conundrum as vertiginous as the feeling of despair of the father losing his child...

Dave Van

There's also The Simpsons episode where Snake attempts to decapitate Homer with a wire strung between two trees while he drives Snake's beloved convertible - reasoning that once Homer's head pops off, the car will roll to a gentle stop. His plan failed though - although Kirk Van Houten does lose part of his arm.


I associate that killing method with a KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER episode (story by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale) titled "Chopper," a modernization of the Headless Horseman, in which a decapitated motorcyclist (killed in a wire-road-prank turned fatal) comes back to cut off the heads of those who wronged him. Do you think McCarthy's a KOLCHAK fan?


I have a vague recollection that this also happened in a WWII movie...not the Dirty Dozen, but something along those lines. I don't think it resulted in decapitation, but it did seriously impede the progress of the intended target.

Also, for my part, the tendency to veer into pomposity and absurdity is the price of admission for any McCarthy work. All the Pretty Horses is still a damn good story, and I can't fault the gorgeousness of Blood Meridian's prose, even if the book at times feels cheaply nihilistic and sensationalized.

Grant L

I first heard about this kind of thing in a book in my mid-teens (1977, about) - I don't remember anything else about the book (name, author, a single plot detail), just that it was fiction, and that your post brought back that part of the book where one character tells another that this way of killing someone actually occurred quite a bit in WWII.

The second time I heard about it was not long after, in Lisa Alther's novel "Kinflicks." It would take awhile to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that a group of semi-radical lesbians living in the country are raided by the rednecks down the road, and in the ensuing melee/chase/battle, which takes place mostly on snowmobiles, one of the women is decapitated by a wire one of the guys set up.

Jeff McMahon

I just saw this last night. I can't say I thought it was a bad movie, 5 of the most charismatic actors now working certainly held my attention, but... there was something (deliberately) off-putting about how devoted it was to its "everything is shit" thesis at the expense of more than a skeleton of plot or real character development. I mean, it's not often that I want to see a film producer take a screenplay by a genius and say "explain the plot more and give me a car chase or two" but I honestly feel such changes would only help the film.

Jeff McMahon

Also, I very much enjoy both McCarthy's The Road and steamed broccoli without salt.

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