The Fixer

Oh, how filmmakers must lament the advancements in make-up and special effects.  No doubt, David Cronenburg watches The Fly and winces at what might have been had CGI been more affective at the time.  Still, unless you are George Lucas and decide to revisit them with the CGI crew, you have to be happy that you made do with what was available at the time.

Oh, how filmmakers must lament the advancements in digitalfilm making.  OK, you get the gist.  Film stocks vary, as do prints and they also have varying shelf lives according to storage and care.  So, a straight to DVD Michael Dudikoff movie will effectively look as good (or bad) in 40 years, as it does now.  Whereas, something like The Fixer, unless the prints are available for remastering, will not have stood the test of time.

The Fixer, an epic story of a Jewish worker (Alan Bates) held captive in a hostile Russian prison for a crime he is innocent of, needs to be viewed through a squint for reasons alluded to above.

Perhaps, TCM has acquired a poor print of the film in a similar way to how Movies 4 Men shows a particularly poor quality version of Fort Apache, when a perfectly good version can be bought on DVD or is shown on other networks.  But, the film quality noticeably changes throughout, from mediocre to poor and back.  At one point a thick line streaked down the right half of the screen. 

As for the effects, well, what I’m really talking about is the make up job on Alan Bates.  I’m sure the best available make-up effects were applied at the time, but they look very dated and the continuity doesn’t help.  Again, I’m really talking about the varying lengths of Alan Bates’s hair.  The film is a bit of a halfway house, as it seems to care about authenticity, yet the makers have made a conscious decision not to get bogged down in forcing actors to pursue authentic Russian accents.

This sort of stuff is superficial really and perhaps we are spoilt these days by having remastered films and high definition available to us so readily.  So rather than literally view through a squint, metaphorically view through a squint to block out or blur the obvious distractions.

At the heart of this film is the story, based upon the novel by Bernard Malamud, set in Russia against the backdrop of the Czars persecution of the Jews.

Yakov Bog is masterfully played by Alan Bates.  He was nominated for an Oscar and it’s easy to see why (incidentally, he lost out to Cliff Robertson).  He carries us on a journey through his initial innocence, his self doubt and self analysis, through to his employment as a non-Jew, where he is wracked with guilt and worries about losing his identity.  Subsequently, following his incarceration, he continues on a journey of self discovery; his failed marriage, his faith, his desire to live.  All the while enduring brutal treatment from the judicial hierarchy.  Throughout this experience, which incidentally transcends the prison walls and sweeps the nation and causes international uproar, his one underlying rule or ethic is one of idealism.  Why shouldn’t he work in the non-Jewish section?  A man’s got to work.  Why shouldn’t he perhaps indulge in a liaison with his employer’s daughter?  A man has desires.   And why should he confess to a crime he did not do to get out of punishment?  A man is innocent until proven guilty.  Even, when, after many years of incarceration and abuse, he is pardoned, he stands upright and says that he cannot be pardoned, as he has not been found guilty, so he will have his day in court.

I’m no philosopher, but this philosophy seems to be one of common sense and it often seems to be the first thing to go when people are in a crisis (in this case the Russian Czar even says that without focusing hatred on the Jews, the focus might shift to the Czar).  But, the shining light for Yakov and the whole Jewish population is that this philosophy is known to everyone to be the best, which is why the authorities became so desperate to break him.  Even one of his guards, sees enough of this to save his life when faced with a homicidal officer.

So when you look beyond the “not so” special effects and the poor quality viewing experience, which can be done with any film, the basic element remains of whether a story is worth telling and whether it is told well.

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