Michael Mann is my favorite director.  Well, after Sergio Leone, who is clearly the greatest of all time.  But among the ranks of living, actively working filmmakers, to me Michael Mann is the top.  Since he’s a contemporary of Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola, etc., I’m not entirely sure why he’s not routinely mentioned alongside that pantheon of names, except that he started just a little later than those guys, and that he’s so closely identified with television (Miami Vice, Crime Story, etc.) by some people.  But who cares about what classification goes where:  As far as I’m concerned, Michael Mann is a filmmaking hero.  I literally study his movies.  He’s always at the forefront of visual techniques and technology, and no one can set a mood or use music remotely as well as he can.  He’s a stylist who is equally as interested in performance and storytelling.  His movies may not always be what the critics call perfect, but he’s incapable of making an unwatchable film.  There’s something to watch and rewatch every time out.  Every single one is worth seeing, for some reason or many others.  [And I named this essay “Part One” because I plan to come back to examining his movies in this space from time to time.]


Of course, I should qualify by saying that there is one I’m missing:  The Keep.  Outside of some of his TV work, this is the only one of Mann’s films that I haven’t been able to see.  I was a child when it was released theatrically, and it has never played on cable as far as I’ve known ever since I’ve been aware enough to care so much, and I’ve heard no rumblings about a DVD release.  The Keep was directed by Mann in the early 1980s, after the underestimated Thief and before the transcendent Manhunter, and according to IMDB, it stars the solid and still-relevant actors Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, and Ian McKellen.


The Keep was based on the horror novel of the same name by F. Paul Wilson, not to be confused with F. Scott Fitzgerald, F. Murray Abraham, or F. M. All.  I have read the book, and it’s an excellently creepy story, and, on paper, knowing what Mann is capable of visually, it’s a highly promising proposition.  Basically, it goes this way: 

During World War Two, a battalion of Nazi soldiers is dispatched to an ancient fortress in Transylvania to hold it down as a strategic vantage point.  While there, the stupid idiot Nazis unleash a timeless supernatural being that surpasses even their own evil.  They desperately try to force a local expert and his daughter to help them defeat it, but only a mysterious stranger recently arrived from far away has any chance of stopping it. 


Creating Nazi protagonists is a hugely risky move on the part of the writer.  I was resistant to reading it myself, because I hate Nazis that much.  But that makes it all the more satisfying once the vampire-like specter starts picking them off one-by-one, filling the idiots with pants-crapping fear.  And on the higher level, the author does an admirable job of delineating the various forms of evil.  F. Paul Wilson is just a badass writer, both of short stories and of novels, and I recommend anything you can find that he’s done.  In particular, his supernatural-thriller series featuring his signature character Repairman Jack is pretty cool.  I get the sense that he’s not satisfied with the cinematic treatment of his work thus far, but unfortunately I can’t speak to that first-hand yet.


Anyway, I bring all this up this morning because The Keep is playing tonight, Saturday September 20th, at the New Beverly.  I can’t make it because I’m out of town, and believe me, I’m kicking myself.  I’ve heard that the finished film isn’t what it could be, but as a completist, I’d love the chance to round out the Mann catalogue.  So I urge you, sight unseen, to catch it. 


It’s so crucial to support theaters that play such interesting cinematic rarities.  If you live in the Los Angeles area, you live in THE best neighborhood to see movies.  You just plain have the access.  It’s Movietown, USA.  This is one of the rare times I will admit that LA has one over on my beloved New York, so enjoy that enthusiastic concession while it lasts….