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The Cars that Ate Paris (1976)
16th Nov 08
The naughty residents have a habit of deliberately causing car accidents so that the locals can live of the salvage they can sell. Arthur isnít really being looked after by the Mayor for any other reason than they want to keep him prisoner, heís kinda lucky as most survivors are carted off to the local looney bin to be experimented on. He soon becomes a traffic cop for the town and runs foul of the youngsters who take to the streets at night in their souped-up cars.
Iím a big fan of director Peter Weir. During his career to date, Weir has created some of the more atmospheric and haunting movies of the past thirty years. His Dead Poets Society positively ached with the repressed passions of the schoolboys at its centre, his Gallipoli sucker-punched you with an emotional wallop that remains with you for ages after and his Picnic at Hanging Rock remains with me still and itís a good twenty years since I last saw it.
Weir even managed to make a credible lead out of Harrison Ford with both Witness and more impressively in The Mosquito Coast. He even made Andie MacDowell look award-worthy in the touching Green Card.So what went wrong with his feature film debut The Cars That Ate Paris?
Some would argue that not a lot did go wrong. For starters the movie kick-started Weirís cinematic career and saw him capitalise on that start with each of his subsequent releases establishing him as one of the best in the business.
More a cult oddity than something to genuinely enjoy, The Cars That Ate Paris frustrates and drags, all the while promising that something just might happen but all the while failing to ever ignite.
Weir got the idea for the film from a couple of unconnected incidents, one that took place in France and another in England. In France he got to thinking why it was that when stopped and approached by people blocking the road in orange jackets, that he readily accepted what they were saying and took the alternative route they suggested. He found the whole scenario odd.
Later in England Weir was struck by how readily the tabloids would tend to report car accidents as small news and therefore get missed whilst affording huge space to sensational nonsense such as a lover stabbed to death. It struck him there and then that if you were to ever consider killing someone and were looking to get away with it, the way to do it would be to do so with a car accident.
Quite amusingly the American market decided to jazz things up a bit and called the film Cars That Eat People trimming the running time down from 91 minutes to 74 minutes. The movie was re-edited without Weirís permission altering the opening and closing moments with a voice over from a completely different actor. There seems to be a lot of having to spoon-feed the audience and let them know that this is not taking place in Paris, France but actually in Paris, Australia.
As with most cult movies the film was not a box office smash, it didnít cost a lot to make but was such a failure it left the director penniless, but via the film festival circuit it generated healthy notices and established Weir as a name to watch.
Iíve read reviews that claim how intelligent the movie is. I get that the movie is kinda clever but I still just donít get IT. Thereís nothing to fault in terms of how itís been made. It is just one of those films that doesnít work for me. Itís not something I can put my finger on and talk at length about. Itís just not for me. The Cars That Ate Paris is like celluloid Marmite, youíll either love it or hate it and youíll suss out which camp you sit in very early on into the movie.