Friday, July 10, 2020

Hardcore (1979 film)

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, Hardcore is the story of a conservative businessman who goes on a search for his daughter as it is believed that she has taken part in the culture of pornography. The film is a study of a man who enters into a subculture of sadomasochism and pornography to find his daughter believing she has descended into a world of decadence and exploitation. Starring George C. Scott, Season Hubley, Peter Boyle, and Dick Sargent. Hardcore is a haunting yet rapturous film from Paul Schrader.

The film is set in the subculture of pornography, prostitution, and other forms of adult entertainment where the daughter of a Calvinist businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan has disappeared into that world during a trip to Los Angeles as she never returned prompting her father to go into the world to find her. It’s a film that has a man with strong conservative values as he is a single father trying to run various businesses he owns in this small town of Grand Rapids while raising his daughter the right way with the help of his sister and her husband who have a family of their own. Paul Schrader’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative yet it’s more about a man venturing into a dark underworld of sex as it is far removed from everything he knows about as he seeks the help of a private investigator who is warning him about what he’s about to enter and maybe not want to have his daughter return home.

For Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott), his journey to find his daughter and return her home forces him to enter this dark world and learn about its culture of sadomasochism, 8mm porno films, peep shows, prostitution and such that he has never been in contact with despite the fact that there is a porno theater in his home town where he would see his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) in a 8mm porno film. Kristen was part of a Calvinist-sponsored trip to California with her cousin only to not return as Van Dorn and his brother-in-law Wes (Dick Sargent) go to Los Angeles where they try to get help from the police as they turn to an unconventional private detective in Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) who doesn’t do things by the book as he also visits porno shoots and such to find out what happened to Kristen. Yet, Van Dorn is forced to do things himself as well as dress sleazier to be part of the world where he meets a young prostitute/porn actress in Niki (Season Hubley) who knows the men that was in the film that Kristen was in. Niki would take him closer to this world as she would finally find someone she can talk to other than just be used for sex.

Schrader’s direction is largely straightforward though he doesn’t go too far into showcasing the dark world of pornography as there’s nothing explicit shown as it is more about Van Dorn’s reaction of what he is seeing and the world his daughter has ventured into. Shot on locations in and near Grand Rapids, Michigan as well as parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, Schrader uses Grand Rapids as a place of peace, decency, and ty of people that know and respect each other. It’s sort of disconnected by what is going on in society yet there are places that not even Van Dorn is aware of. Schrader’s usage of the medium and wide shots help play into that world as well as a sense of intimacy that is prevalent into Van Dorn’s home and the home of his sister. Schrader’s usage of close-ups would play into the emotional turmoil that Van Dorn would endure as his portrayal of California’s pornography scene is raw and uncompromising despite the lack of male full-frontal nudity.

Schrader’s direction also play into this fish out of water mentality that Van Dorn would feel as he would change his clothes from straight-laced suits to a look that is reminiscent of pimps and producers. Notably as he would pretend to be a porn producer and try to find the actors who appeared in the porno his daughter was in. The film’s third act that has Van Dorn traveling to San Diego and San Francisco to find an actor who might know Kristen’s whereabouts does show Schrader easing up the drama as Van Dorn is accompanied by Niki as it play into Van Dorn’s own faults as a man as well as the fact that he just tries to provide Kristen with a good life while he also shows concern for Niki, who is stuck in the world of porn and prostitution, as he offers a chance to leave this world. Still, there is that air of reality and cynicism that Van Dorn has to endure as well as revelations about his daughter and what she went through. Overall, Schrader crafts a visceral yet intense film about a father going into the dark world of pornography to find his daughter.

Cinematographer Michael Chapman does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of stylish lights for the scenes set at night that also include some naturalistic lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editor Tom Rolf does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward as it play into the drama with a few stylish cuts that play into Van Dorn’s confrontations with a few individuals involved with Kristen’s disappearance. Production designer Paul Sylbert, with set decorator Bruce Weintraub and art director Edwin O’Donovan, does fantastic work with the look of some of the seedy brothels, strip clubs, and other porno places in California including the theater in Grand Rapids.

Sound mixer Bud Maffett does superb work for the sound in capturing the mood of the locations as well as some effects that occur in some of intense moments of action. The film’s music by Jack Nitzsche is wonderful for its mixture of blues and country to play into some of the sleaziness that Van Dorn encounters while the soundtrack also features original electronic music pieces by Jill Fraser and Rob Miller that play into the dark night life of California while the rest of the soundtrack feature a mixture of blues, country, and rock as it feature pieces by Mink Deville, Susan Raye, Byron Berline, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

The casting by Vic Ramos is great as it feature some notable small roles from Tracey Walters as a porno store teller, Bibi Besch as a designer for Van Dorn’s company, Bobby Kosser as a porn director, Ed Begley Jr. as an actor playing a soldier for a porn film, Hal Williams as an African-American porn actor that auditions for a fake film Van Dorn is producing who spouts some hilarious lines, Marc Alaimo as a controversial porn figure in Ratan, Leonard Gaines as the sleazy porn producer Bill Ramada, Gary Graham and Will Walker as a couple of porn actors who appeared in the film that Kristen was in, and Ilah Davis as Van Dorn’s daughter Kristen as a young woman who disappears and then reappears in an 8mm porno film. Dick Sargent is superb as Van Dorn’s brother-in-law Wes DeJong as a man who becomes concerned with Van Dorn’s well-being as well as going to the police and later Mast for help.

Peter Boyle is brilliant as Andy Mast as an unconventional yet pessimistic detective who makes some chilling discoveries about Kristen while warning Van Dorn to not go any further as he is a flawed man that likes young girls and can be cruel but he is also someone who doesn’t bullshit when it comes to the dark realities of the world. Season Hubley is amazing as Niki as a porn actress/prostitute whom Van Dorn meets as she knows one of the actors in Kristen’s film as she helps Van Dorn while trying to understand his values as she sees a father figure in him as it play into her own troubled life and need for salvation. Finally, there’s George C. Scott in a phenomenal performance as Jake Van Dorn as a devoted Calvinist who is also a successful businessman in Grand Rapids who is given a rude awakening about what happened to his daughter as he copes with the world she’s in and the denial he might be carrying as it is an eerie and tormented performance from Scott who definitely provides some intense emotional moments as a man just dealing with things he might not be ready to cope with.

Hardcore is an incredible film from Paul Schrader that features a great performance from George C. Scott. Along with strong supporting work from Peter Boyle and Season Hubley as well as its study of a man entering into the decadent world of pornography to find his daughter. It is an unsettling yet engrossing film that explores a man being tested as well as be forced to examine his own faults as a man and as a father. In the end, Hardcore is a phenomenal film from Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters - (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – Dying of the Light - (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed - (The Card Counter)

© thevoid99 2020


Alex Withrow said...

Great review here. This is one of my favorite Schrader's and my of my favorite of Scott's work. I still can't believe Scott even agreed to do it.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I'm surprised that someone like George C. Scott who has a reputation for being extremely difficult would do this film yet I was more shocked to see him in a wig and mustache in one scene. He was great in it.