Peter Bogdanovich’s “Targets”, the critic-cum-director’s first full original feature (if one discounts the cobbled efforts in his apprenticeship through the Roger Corman meat grinder) plays less as a thriller or a drama than as a thesis paper on violence in society, though whether this is meant as an editorial on gun control or merely a commentary on the unexplained randomness of such deadly eruptions is unclear though the universality of the themes are all the more relevant today and so it is more critical that the subject be treated with an intelligence that resists the regressive backslide into exploitation of the very elements the film is purportedly condemning. That the film has something on its mind is clear, but Bogdanovich has failed in very meaningful ways to clarify just what those intentions are. Much of this is born of the director’s own background and personal enthusiasms which in many ways help to create an insoluble conflict of the director’s temperament between obsessed, star-struck cultural chronicler and emerging individual artistic voice; a conflict which eventually leads to an unfortunate implosion of the film’s initial formal visual patterns- which are inseparable from the depiction of the vacancy of the film’s sniper and the barren environment which is meant to have percolated the homicidal instincts laying dormant (much of this due to the efforts of talented productions designer Polly Platt, who makes tract house comfort seem like purgatorial austerity) -depicting the killer’s clean cut Life Magazine existence as an existential vacuum, and diverts the film into the informality of a mad-killer-on-the-loose story at which Bogdanovich shows little aptitude in the skills of using those same formal disciplines to build the tension of a scene and to adequately direct the viewer about the proper spatial design in which the action takes place; far too often we are reminded, during the climatic drive-in sniper attack, that the killer is situated at a precarious elevation within the movie screen structure yet his rifle is always leveled as if shooting straight ahead, nor is there an attempt to mark the placement of the victims to understand the contrary reaction within the attendant cars, many seeming to be oblivious of what is going on while Bogdanovich intercuts shots of a panicked exodus which seems to go nowhere except to give a pale imitation of frenzied action that fails to correspond with much of his footage. This degeneration from La Nouvelle Vague chic (In its initially vacant, emotionally sterile formality, the film is stylistically reminiscent of Truffaut’s “La peau douce”.) to drive-in trashiness might have led to an interesting and intelligent osmosis breaching the boundaries of the serious and the exploitative had there been a more compelling point to the collision except to awkwardly engineer a culminating meeting of the two protagonists from his two mismatched plot lines: their eventual fusion- horrendously staged -leading to a clumsy and abbreviated climax reminiscent of the proverbial square peg in the round hole. In many ways, the cost cutting, anything for an exposed frame resourcefulness of the Corman school of filmmaking reveals itself to compromise (at least in thinking as artistically limited as Bogdanovich’s) creative clarity.
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