Archive for November 25th, 2013

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by James Clark 

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) is so unmistakably about dimming lights that we have to take special care not to miss its profoundly difficult discoveries and associated cinematic audacity. Brought to life in the rural-worshipping hippie era, it would seem to be some kind of paean to helpless victims ambushed in their modest pursuit of happiness by ruthlessly greedy commercial concerns. A hired killer, newly arrived in a recently founded Washington State mining town, in 1901, to dispose of an obstacle to maximum profits—being even possessed of a black moustache by which to emphasize his villainy—introduces a few of the settlement’s stakeholders to the technique of using Chinese migrant workers to go to their deaths for the cause of efficiency. “Do you know what the fine is for killing a Chinaman? $50, maximum…”

    Such a gambit would lend itself to a conventional melodrama, the ethos of hippiedom being, alas, not significantly more innovative than that of their grandparents. To find our way to Altman’s best shot (and, for such a spotty career as his, this film definitely displays the A-game), it is, I think, best to start with a barely noticeable moment, namely, a bouncy pony running through a snowdrift on one of the village’s trails while a snowstorm is in progress. This blip of infectious fizz occurs simultaneously with the hit man and his gang stalking the protagonist/obstacle amongst the clapboard structures and along a series of rickety rope and wooden footbridges lacing amidst the muck, ice and snow. Though not actually frisky, the outnumbered nonconformist stages a surprisingly bracing counter-attack, killing all three of his savage adversaries, but in the course of which succumbing to bullet wounds and, lurching through deep snow banks, collapsing in a spray of snowflakes much like those the pony kicked up. As the subsequent and final scene plays out, we see the protagonist, McCabe, becoming increasingly covered by snow, until his configuration could be that of a snow-covered, dead pony. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Freezing temperatures have descended on the northeast, as families prepare for Turkey Day and and an extended late November weekend.  This is as always the most fruitful part of the year from a cultural standpoint, and some are planning their entertainment  itinerary for the coming weeks.  The staff at Wonders in the Dark would like to take this opportunity to wish all our American friends and readers a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

The western countdown has now wound down to the final placements, with Jim Clark’s superb review on McCabe and Mrs. Miller kicking off the Top 10.  The latest site genre countdown has just two weeks to go, with the #1 essay set to post on Friday, December 6.  As I mentioned  under a post of one of this past week’s reviews,  the comments have been significantly down in numbers from the prior musical and comedy countdowns, but page views remain impressive, and the quality of writing has equaled the level of any previous endeavor at the site. (more…)

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