"Machines are going to fail," Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds) warns Ed
Gentry (Jon Voight). "Systems are going to fail. Then survival."
No, he's not talking about the year 2000 software problem. In director
John Boorman's classic 1972 film, Lewis is generally weary of everything
electrical and mechanical. He's a macho, but pensive, guy who is taking
three of his buddies, Ed, Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) and Drew Ballinger
(Ronny Cox), on a canoe trip down a wild river. A manmade lake will
soon bury the river, so they will be among the last people who get to
ride down it. DELIVERANCE is a chilling tale of the four men's fight
against evil men, the forces of nature and their own limitations as
Famous, Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
OF THE THIRD KIND), in San Jose to accept the Maverick Spirit Award from
San Jose's Cinequest Film Festival, chose DELIVERANCE as the movie he
wanted to show after receiving his award.
Before the movie he spoke about its filming, telling us how physically
exhausting the shoot was. They had to take canoes every day to get to
the filming location. Because of the danger, they had planned to use
stuntmen extensively, but the footage that made it into the final cut
has the stuntmen in only a few, brief, rock climbing scenes.
They made a decision to film all of the river scenes only on overcast
days, so they could get just the right threatening look that they
wanted. This was a financial risk since they had no idea if they would
get enough overcast days. Sometimes they had to wait for hours for a
little cloud to block out the sun before they could roll the cameras.
Another consideration was where to mount the cameras during the key
scenes on the river. After several experiments, they found that
enclosing them in plastic and mounting them as close to water level as
possible produced the best results. In addition they used long lenses
which magnified the effect of the speed and the action, thus
intensifying the drama.
The movie opens disarmingly as Drew, on his guitar, plays a
good-spirited, impromptu duet with a young, backwoods, mountain boy
playing his banjo. This hauntingly tranquil banjo music will reappear
periodically during the movie as will scenes of the placid sections of
the river. And there will be peaceful shots of roaring campfires and of
the river at twilight, all to provide sharp contrast to the horror of
When things first go just slightly wrong, Ed suggests that they play
golf instead of taking the canoeing vacation -- advice that they will
all wish that they had taken. When they finally venture out on the
river, Bobby has a simple question. "Which way we goin'?" the neophyte
asks. "I think downstream would be best, don't you?" quips Lewis.
Having Zsigmond present at the screening made us more conscious than
normal about the cinematography. Even though we were watching a washed
out, old print, the brilliance of his techniques were still easy to
recognize. Consider just two examples. As Lewis drives his car way too
fast through the dense woods, frightening Ed, Zsigmond lets their faces
be partially obscured by fast moving leaves reflecting on the
windshield, thus making the speed seem palpably dangerous. In the
burial scene, Zsigmond shows how the men are reduced to animals.
Focusing in on their hands and faces as they dig the grave, the once
civilized men have been reduced to their basest instincts.
The viscerally gripping film, which begins with a foreboding peace, ends
with a frightening one. All appears well, but it isn't and never will
be for the men who survive. They will forever after be haunted by
nightmares of their journey.
DELIVERENCE runs 1:49. It is rated R for intense violence, graphic gore
and rape and should be considered NC-17, a rating that they did not have
at the time of the movie's release.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes