Close Up

18 June 2016: Take Two: Burn! / Walker

These two films were inspired by the life of William Walker, an American physician, lawyer, journalist and mercenary, who organised several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as "filibustering."

Walker's name is used for the main character in Burn!, though the character is not meant to represent the historical William Walker and is portrayed as British. On the other hand, Alex Cox's Walker incorporates into its surrealist narrative many of the signposts of William Walker's life and exploits, including his original excursions into northern Mexico to his trial and acquittal on breaking the neutrality act to the triumph of his assault on Nicaragua and his execution.

Gillio Pontecorvo
1969 | 132 min | Colour | 35mm
Introduced by Gareth Evans

"This rarely seen, overlooked gem, featuring what may be one of Marlon Brando’s most fascinating characterizations, was Gillo Pontecorvo’s worthy follow-up to his political masterpiece The Battle of Algiers. The brilliant radical Italian director achieved something unique in cinema, by wedding, as he said, "the romantic adventure and the film of ideas." Although Burn! recalls an Errol Flynn swashbuckler, it is primarily a devastating attack on imperialistic nations – particularly 19th-century Portugal and Great Britain depicted in the film, and by implication, the United States and its involvement in the Vietnam war." – Danny Peary

Alex Cox
1987 | 95 min | Colour | 35mm
Introduced by Alex Cox followed by a Q&A session with the director

Made at a time when US involvement in Central America was a hot topic, Walker is probably Cox’s most overtly political film. It is a decidedly postmodern version of the true story of William Walker, the American adventurer and apostle of Manifest Destiny who led a failed revolution in Mexico, fled south with an army of mercenaries, and toppled the Nicaraguan government in 1855 with the support of US industrialists. The film was actually shot in Nicaragua in 1987 as the Sandinista government was still attempting to quell the American-funded Contra insurgency. At the time of Walker’s initial release, many critics seemed perplexed by Cox's abundant and overt insertion of anachronistic objects that disrupt any sense of the film as a period piece. Seen today, these objects are a clever way of pointing out the parallels between Walker’s Nicaraguan exploits and those of the US government in the 1980s.

Part of our Alex Cox season