Tag Archives: Anti-Western Westerns

American New Wave: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (AKA: Yes, yes I did two Altman films in two weeks. Deal with it. He deserves it.)

hero_eb19991114reviews08911140301arEdited and Updated 2016

Released only one year after Robert Altman’s first masterpiece, MASH, this sly, revisionist Western is the rare film whose intentions and affect are captured fully in its opening credits.  Fore-grounded, we have an image of a decrepit, hunched over, and phony looking enigma of a man riding slowly into an equally decrepit and hunched-over town. It is nothing short of a stunningly snarky and caustic wry mockery of the Western archetype hero riding into town to save the day. Only he isn’t there to “save the day” here. He, McCabe (Warren Beatty), simply wants to make a name for himself, and he does so by running a brothel, but only once he’s saved by a woman who initially couldn’t care less about him, the down-to-earth Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) who somehow manages to maintain an unreachable magisterial mystery about her. And that’s the film in a nutshell: decrepit, deadened, and down-trodden yet still somehow attaining a sort of energetic sense of positively alert human feeling. In this sense, it is the quintessential New Wave film. Continue reading

American New Wave: The Wild Bunch

wildbunchhedEdited

Few genres run the gamut of nervy nightmare to clear-conscience mirth like the Western. Some films have used the medium to push deeper and deeper on the world’s great un-bandaged wounds. But, traditionally,  the genre has been enjoyed for its ability to set the mind at ease. Filled with  grand, black-and-white archetypes which convince us of a world long-gone predicated on righteous morality,  the Wild West is less reality than a dream, a moral vision of America’s mid-century hopes for a conservative world in an era where the world’s complications were increasingly boiling to the surface. In the 1940s and 1950s, the genre was the ultimate in cinematic comfort food.

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Wild Wild Jest: Dead Man

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre.

Update late 2018: After a re-watch, I’m not entirely satisfied with my original, college-age review. (Would that I ever was?). In particular, I find my more nihilistic reading of Dead Man to be hopelessly mired in my youth. In its interplay of shaken signifiers and layered meanings, Jarmusch’s film is never nihilistic. If it reduces the Western to a pageant, it also animates new possibilities for pageantry, retexturing the Western as a kind of poetry as Emersonian as it is Derridean, as open to reconnecting with space and nature as it is exposing its inabilities to do so. The film thrives on an immanent tension, and would that more films followed suit.

After all, if this film re-reads all films as lies, is not Dead Man part of that great filmic canard as well? Dead Man is not “truth”, nor does it want to be. It’s a self-reflexive, filmic op-ed piece, overstated for pure effect. In its untethering from reality, it associatively overlays, blurs, and emulsifies various images and sounds together in new, unexpected ways, shattering pre-established truths and restitching them with an eye not for their cohesion but their imaginative associations, for the spaces in between them, for the breakages and fractures which expose the stitching of reality and the potential for reorganizing sound, space, and mind to new ends. A lyrical expression of the Western as out-of-body experience, it not only critiques the genre; it breaks it, and resurrects it as something anew. What it ultimately imagines is not anti-Western, really, but a new, hopefully prognostic breed of cinema, one not only interested in excoriating the Western myth but also in conjuring a new, more mutable one, a vision of the Western as self-critical, poetic play. I’ll keep the original review up for posterity’s sake, but read at your own risk!

Original Review (Edited mid-2015):

Dead Man is a revisionist Western, sure, but there have been many great revisionist Westerns (look to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven from three years before-hand for ample evidence). There certainly have not, however, been many movies like Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at creating not a gritty non-myth but an anti-myth –  and it’s a marvel of marrying acidic form to acerbic content. This is not only a revisionist Western, but an anti-revisionist Western, an anti-Western, even an anti-film. Continue reading

Wild Wild Best: Rio Bravo

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre. 
I’ve seen a lot of Westerns.  I actively seek out the genre for two reasons. Firstly, existing within a genre of B-pictures with lesser commercial prospects, the films often have a freedom to poke and prod at the nature of film and storytelling in ways films with more money put into them, and thus with more money expected in return, might not have the unexpected freedom for. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Western was historically perhaps the genre where America and its desires are most wont to play themselves out for audiences. Westerns explore a mythic version of traditional American life – some uphold it, some read it past itself to create untold postmodern myths, and some take a knife to the genre and skewer it for all to see. Continue reading