The Sunday Cult film Corner: “Death Watch (1980)”

06 Nov

Ahh the French. When it comes to culture, they always end up doing things just that little bit differently. Actions films, historical dramas, buddy cop dramas. they always have to be that little bit extra. And it’s the same with Sci-Fi. OH they love that stuff, but it’s not enough to have big guns, crazy aliens and shit like “the Force”. No, they have to get all metaphysical and philosophical on us, creating some films that are truly… interesting.

And with this in mind we are heading to…. Glasgow! Yup it’s the Auld Alliance as we bring an Anglo French edition of THE SUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNDAY CULT FILM CORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRNERRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give to you a lost classic – DEATH WATCH

Directed in 1980 by Bernard Tavernier, Death Watch was a departures from the movies he was best known making at the time (Historical dramas and crime). A near future Sci-Fi tale, It tells of Roddy (Harvery Kietel) a cameraman who loses his eye in an accident , but has it replaced by a state of the art camera that can records whatever he sees. Roddy is hired by the head of a TV organisation (Harry Dean Stanton) to follow a woman named Katherine (Romy Schneider). Katherine is dying and the TV organisation want Roddy to secretly record her last actions for a captive TV audience. At first the footage provides a grim and slightly sleazy spectacle as the TV organisation and it’s viewers get to see the thoughts and actions of a person who knows they are dying. But as he spends more time with Katherine, Roddy begins to care and empathise with Katherine’s plight and starts to question his actions.

When Death Watch was first released, a mix of poor reviews and big blockbuster films such as “The Empire Strikes Back” meant that it sank quickly into obscurity. But over the years, the film has grown in stature to become a highly prophetic polemic about the nature of personal privacy, the intrusion of modern media and the ethics of using personal drama, pain and lives for ratings and entertainment. Remember this was back in 1980 and fly on the wall documentaries were still a new phenomenon. The first fly on the wall doc, THE FAMILY, has screened in 1974, but they weren’t as prevalent as they are these days. It predates “The Truman Show” by nearly 20 years.

The other star of Death Watch is the city it was filmed in, Glasgow. in the late 70s/early 80s, Glasgow was a city crumbling and living on fumes, it’s soul destroyed by city planners who had inadvertently turned the place into a shadow of its former self. The old buildings are torn down, the industries all but gone. You can almost feel the city crumble right before your eyes. But the film still manages to capture the city’s faded former glory. the city is feels very off kilter, at once recognisable, but decidedly alien, detached. It’s probably one of the best uses of a city as a location for a film. No shit – even better than Woody Allen’s use of New York.

Death Watch is not your typical Westernised guns blasting, gung-ho, meathead sci-fi film. It has a true message on the nature of human interaction and communication and more importantly makes you think. so if you want to think for a bit (and knowing my readers, that might just be a possibility), then put your feet up with a nice cup of tea enjoy some proper, realist Euro Sc-Fi.

(A big shout out as well to the guys at Dangerous Minds, for the heads up that this film was posted on YouTube)


Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Film


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3 responses to “The Sunday Cult film Corner: “Death Watch (1980)”

  1. Joachim Boaz

    November 6, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    You didn’t mention the most important point — this is an adaptation of an English science fiction novel — The Unsleeping Eye by D. G. Compton… A wonderful novel.

    • bobcluness

      November 6, 2011 at 10:52 pm

      This is also true. As i was working on 3 other things at the time of writing the post, i was pressed for time a bit. But thanks for putting it out there….

  2. Joachim Boaz

    November 7, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Have you seen any other Tavernier film? They can be quite good — ‘Life and Nothing But’ for example — and my personal favorite, Coup de Torchon.


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