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Archive for November, 2013

Shane1

By Jon Warner

There are westerns with greater size and scope (The Searchers). There are westerns that are more taut and suspenseful (High Noon). There are westerns that are more pure (Seven Men From Now) and filled with more psychological depth (The Naked Spur). But there is no other western that is as emotionally resonant as Shane. Weaving throughout its running time is a point of view of a young boy, perhaps not so dissimilar from young boys over the last 150 years or so, brought up first on dime novels and cheap western stories and then eventually silent films and the boom of Hollywood cinema, pushing a brand of western and selling a mythology that continued to further the daydreams of millions of youth across this nation. I too fall into that group. I can remember playing in the backyard with my brother when we were kids growing up in the 80’s. Inevitably we would end up playing cowboys and Indians or some sort of old west themed adventure, utilizing things we’d picked up in movies, tv, and books in order to build a repertoire of dialogue and action, that in our minds resembled some sort of reality, when in fact we were recalling a western mythology, and even though this mythology has basis in reality, it became larger than life through stories and lore that were told and retold generation upon generation. Shane is in fact a film about the mythology itself, taking an examination of our western hero worship and adding incredibly rich layers of emotion which remain remarkably effective in their ability to maintain an honest sweep, unchallenged by any other film in the genre, with everything seemingly put together to achieve a definitive emotional arc. (more…)

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red river

by Brandie Ashe

It’s 1851, and an entire generation of Americans is shifting westward, seeking to settle the untamed lands on the other side of the Mississippi River. Among them is Tom Dunson (John Wayne), a willful, determined man who seeks to make his fortune as a cattle rancher. He leaves behind a wagon train and sets off with his longtime friend, Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan), to find a parcel of land in Texas to call his own. His lover, Fen (Coleen Gray), begs to come along, but Dunson does not think she is strong enough to handle the rough conditions and promises to send for her once he is more established.

As Dunson and Groot make their way south, they notice smoke behind them and realize that the wagon train has been attacked by Indians—something that is confirmed later when the pair are set upon by a couple of Indian scouts. As Dunson does away with one attacker, he notices his foe is wearing the gold bracelet he had given Fen as a token of his love, confirming her fate.

In the wake of the attack, Dunson and Groot stumble upon an orphan, Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn), who had escaped the massacre at the wagon train. Dunson takes in the boy, and later lays claim to a large parcel of land owned by a Mexican rancher after killing the rancher’s hired gunman. Dunson takes ownership of Matt’s cow, mating her to his own bull and crafting grand plans for the ranch he will soon build. (more…)

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Rutgers

Eric Lampmann and Ruthers Marching Band at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey on Saturday afternoon during Rutgers-Cincinnati game

Mink Stole and Penny Arcade in Tennessee Williams’ “The Mutilated” at New Ohio Theater in Manhattan

by Sam Juliano

Enjoying a mid-November football game in the New Jersey-New York area would normally require a winter coat and a hoodie.  But the weather at Piscataway’s High Point Solutions Stadium was unusually comfortable, with 65 and sunny skies.  Too bad that the 5-3 Rutgers team played their worst game of the year and got dismantled by the high-flying Cincinnati Bearcats by a score of 52-17 in front of a near-sold crowd in the Scarlet Knights’ playground.  But heck, teams have bad days as can be seen by the deplorable performance by the Jets against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon.  Lucille, Sammy and I attended to watch our nephew Eric Lampmann performance with the Rutgers Marching Band at halftime and after the game, but the entire college football experience and the great tailgate party before and after made Saturday a most memorable day, regardless of the fortunes of the Scarlet Knights.

Lucille and I took in one of Tennessee Williams’ less performed plays, “The Mutilated” at the New Ohio Theater on Christopher Street on Wednesday night.  The one act play has long been neglected, but seems properly staged at the seedy underground theater, where the one-act work benefits enormously from a jazz score, a great trumpet player, and the performance of John Waters alumni Mink Sole (“Pink Flamingos”) who joins the boozy revelers in effective song numbers.  The setting is the Silver Dollar Hotel, and the play is both funny and truthful. (more…)

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by Mike Norton

Opening with a shot of a man and a woman at a bar with their backs turned to us establishes the realism of Vivre sa vie right off the bat. That woman is Nana (Anna Karina), an aspiring actress who is about to experience a downward spiral through society that happens in so many character study films. It’s apparent to the viewer here that Nana’s dreams of making it as an actress are just that. By refusing to shoot her in the way a conventional screen actress might be shot in an opening scene, and robbing her of her close up, Godard basically condemns Nana, setting forth her tragic character arch that is portrayed in 12 tableaux throughout the film. Indeed, this is a very self-reflexive film, subtly so, brimming with references to past movies, philosophy, and politics. It’s not as apocalyptic in its reinventing of cinema language as later Godard films would be since here Godard does take a good deal of interest in his main character, making Vivre sa vie one of his most humane films. Yet it’s also meta-reflexive, fascinatingly bringing reality to cinema and creating a new reality out of past cinema, while also showcasing the young auteur’s developing visual style and command over the sound design. If there’s any Godard film that makes for a good entry point in the director’s admittedly distancing filmography, it might be this. (more…)

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by John Greco

In John Ford’s 1962 late career masterpiece, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” there’s a line quoted by the town’s newspaper editor, Maxwell Scott, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And that’s just what John Ford was best at, recording the west not as it was, but as more of a mystical fable of how we want the west to be best remembered. Ford and his screenwriters play loose with the facts, still it is one of the most visually stunning of westerns, a black and white canvas of the west as it never existed, but we all wish it had.

Earp’s career has been idolized, revised and sanitized many times over. He was only a lawman for about eight years, and in Tombstone, it was Wyatt’s brother Virgil who was the Marshal with Wyatt and Virgil his deputies.(1) Not to bore you dear reader with the facts, but neither Doc Holliday nor Pop Clanton died during the short thirty second battle. Wyatt actually met Doc Holliday in Dodge City back in 1876 five years before the O.K. Corral shootings. When they left for Tombstone, John “Doc” Holliday followed. If you want a somewhat more realistic, though still not totally accurate, version of what happened back in 1881 at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath, check out John Sturges “Hour of the Gun.” Oh yeah, a couple of other things, when Wyatt visits the grave of the youngest Earp, James who was killed by the Clanton’s early in the film, his tombstone reads he died in 1882 instead of ’81 when the shootout occurred. And as for Clementine Carter, well she is a purely fictional character. (more…)

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johnny-guitar-playing-the-piano

by Pedro Silva

François Truffaut proclaimed Johnny Guitar “La Belle et la Bête du western”.

American audiences “didn’t know what to make of it, so they either ignored it or laughed at it” points Martin Scorcese. There where guns and horses but Johnny Guitar is not a ‘classic western’, it somehow threatened the conventions of the most American of genres. The lack of action, the untraditional themes and the unprecedented role of women didn’t match the expectation of regular western fans.

The major revision element was an issue over gender. Vienna (Joan Crawford) and Emma (a brilliant Mercedes McCambridge) were the main protagonist and antagonists instead of Johnny Guitar and the Dancin’ Kid. Both characters assume traditional masculine roles, they were the leaders on the respective sides of the fence, and even present a shocking virility to the 50’s women. Some people tend to view homosexual elements on the relationship between Vienna an Emma. I think it’s clearly exaggerated, Vienna just represents the sexual freedom Emma herself wishes she could have and this leads to anger and frustration on her part and Vienna becomes her target. (more…)

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by John Greco

At this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s hard to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was “The Ox-Bow Incident,” based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. “The Ox-Bow Incident” was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play, focusing on vigilantism, group mentality, reducing men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds. It is also possibly the first psychological western ever made. (more…)

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dogville-1 

© 2013 by James Clark

  This exciting film plays out along two ranges of discernment. There is a foreground from out of which the protagonist, Grace, musters an increasingly enigmatic saga of affectionate solicitude for all those around her. And there is a background of variably emergent film and theatre precedents serving to make at least slightly more manageable the graces comprising her singular actions. There is—despite what friends and foes of this picture will claim—no denying the unusual difficulty of the concerns it conveys to us.

    Accordingly, let’s find some footing amidst the very overt staginess of its approach to us, a theatrical underpinning for the drama. The entire experience stems from a large sound stage wherein the houses and streets are adumbrated by lines drawn in chalk, augmented by a few austere furnishings, appliances and a small truck. The pronounced artificiality of this evocation of a slice of threadbare life has reminded many of its viewers of the alienation strategy of playwright, Bertolt Brecht; and still others have noticed, in the lack of realistic settings apropos of a rural community, some affinity with that well-known and much-beloved study of American sensibility, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Forget right now, about the Communist diatribes of Brecht, as afforded by paring down the narrative recognition of concrete life in order to deliver coals to Newcastle for an audience of oldies thinking to be new. (Academics, with neither experience of nor respect for film per se, rise to this bait in order to grind out dusty chestnuts supposedly the big yield of an innovator like von Trier.) But don’t forget the burden of the brilliant Our Town, its microscopic discovery that we never take the time to see the fully sensuous moment in all its magic. And also hold on to its stripped-down physicality as purportedly rendering an exhaustive sufficiency in humanity as seen by mainstream humanism. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Anthony Mann passed away before he could realize his long-intended western based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, but a persuasive argument could still be made that both Man of the West and The Man from Laramie have in large measure fulfilled that desire.  Mann’s acknowledged background in Greek and Shakespearean drama no doubt helped the director in fashioning some acute and telling character parallels, while never losing sight of the political turbulence that dogged Hollywood in the 1950’s.  The Cold War era and the McCarthy witch hunts breaded insecurity, paranoia and madness, and these aspects were ingrained in the compromised heroes of several Mann westerns, especially The Man from Laramie.  The final of five fruitful collaborations between Mann and acting icon James Stewart, the film was shot in Cinemascope, which allowed for a greater complexity of composition, and the opportunity to effectively visualize the duality between hero and villain, and how to express more visual depth.   Mann had used this kind of framing in the academy ratio in films such as Bend in the River, but the rectangular framing made the close-ups more dynamic and the landscape within the frame more turbulent. (more…)

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600full-ride-lonesome-poster

By Peter Lenihan

“More an essentialist than a minimalist” was how critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once described Robert Bresson, a somewhat elusive distinction that might help us make sense of Budd Boetticher’s unusual westerns as well. We must first emphasize the differences between these two directors’ works. Boetticher, unlike Bresson, worked with actors. They were not exactly stars, but great players like Randolph Scott, Richard Boone and Lee Marvin did some of their best work in his films. Additionally, Boetticher’s films were the result of collaboration—it’s impossible to imagine the Ranown films existing without writer Burt Kennedy and actor Randolph Scott, and they seemed to contribute as much to the films’ present qualities as the director. Finally, despite their singularity, films like Ride Lonesome were a particularly extreme expression of genre and filmic codes—they were anything but rejections of conventions, and instead appeared to purify and render them anew.

Nevertheless, Rosenbaum’s distinction remains a helpful one, particularly since Boetticher’s films are so much more than the result of mere subtraction. For all that sparseness and open nothing, Boetticher’s films are incredibly precise and—on their own modest terms—complex, often resembling intricate dances in which men working and living together are forced to get along until the shooting starts. At least three Boetticher films—Seven Men from Now, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station—essentially have the same plot. A group of men and women, many of whom are not quite who they appear to be, must get from one place to another. The reasons certain people have for going to this place remain in clear conflict with the reasons of other’s within that group, and although they might unite to fight Indians or bandits, the group itself cannot hold, and often, though certainly not always, breaks apart violently. (more…)

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