Sunday 10 October 2010
One of the very, very greatest films ever made, and not just because it starred Warren Oates. John Milius' 1973 version of "Dillinger" encompassed two key themes of early '70's American cinema - an identification with the Great Depression following the "Nixon Shock" of Dollar devaluation and the subsequent "stagflation" recession in the US ("Paper Moon", "The Sting", "The Day Of The Locust, "Chinatown" etc.) and a new, naturalistic approach to violence that depicted it as haphazard and accidental; occurring not as premeditated will-to-power or as justified defence, but as a result of inexperience, bad faith, panic and misunderstanding.
As with Kris Kristofferson in Sam Peckinpah's contemporaneous "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid", Oates's Dillinger is an unlikely, almost accidental outlaw, gaining renown (and an exaggerated sense of his own efficacy) from confrontations with the law he's seeking to avoid, bank jobs that go epically awry, accolites he's only too keen to dump, and a public and press that needs any kind of hero to articulate a resistance to the perceived arbiters of the economic slump.
Of course, it's easy to both trace a lineage for this kind of folk hero back to highwaymen like Dick Turpin, and forwards to contemporary folk devils like Raoul Moat. What "Dillinger" shows, and what we may see unfolding before our eyes as the reality of the global financial crash makes itself felt on the ground, is that almost any resistance, no matter how inept or nihilistic, gains its own mythical momentum in the absence of any kind of organised confrontation.