In Review: Steven Spielberg’s Duel at The Flicker Club

by Helen Cox on 03/07/2012

The Flicker Club is a film collective that fuses literary and and cinematic influences, creating an entertaining but informative experience for audiences across London. Each event takes place in a carefully-selected venue – my first introduction to this movement was at a Hammer-sponsored screening of The Woman in Black at The Vault near Waterloo station and boy was that spooky – and is introduced by resident funny-man Clive Perrott.

The Flicker Club is delightfully unique for many reasons, but one of its key principles is to screen only films that have literary roots. Prior to each screening punters are treated to a reading from the source material by one of many talented actors associated with the event. Last Wednesday, at Stoke Newington Town Hall I sat gripped by a recital from Richard Matheson’s Duel before the lights dimmed and the 1971 Spielberg-directed TV film, adapted by Matheson from his own story, played out.

Duel is the tale of David Mann (Dennis Weaver): an electrical salesman who is driving home from a business trip.  This may not sound like a recipe for deadly suspense but the film soon takes a turn for the sinister when a large, oily Peterbilt 281 tanker truck starts stalking him up and down the highway; putting his life in jeopardy on numerous occasions.

It’s unsurprising that this is the project that secured Spielberg his directorial role in Jaws (1975), the two pictures have a great deal in common. From the frequent use of POV shots that gently build a sense of time, place and threat to the presence of an unstoppable menace bent on destruction that shadows Mann regardless of his many attempts at escape. Spielberg even used the same sound effect for the crashing of the truck and the death of his seminal shark. Weaver puts in a pitch-perfect performance that readily conveys Mann’s disbelief, paranoia and dread. Spielberg’s direction can be, at times, somewhat pedestrian but he builds to a heady climax and this piece remains an important footnote on his now intimidating filmography.

The next Flicker Club event is a screening of and reading from West Side Story. After the five star evening I had at last week’s gathering I truly recommend warming up your vocal chords and deciding once and for all whose side you’re on! Details of the next cinematic clash between the Jets and the Sharks can be found here.

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