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Archive for November, 2013

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By Stephen Mullen

Winchester 73 was the first collaboration between James Stewart and Anthony Mann, the beginning of an extremely successful partnership. The film itself is very innovative – it brought the influence of noir into the western, along with a complex narrative structure, complicated, morally ambiguous characters, classical influences, and psychological depth (and more than a hint of Freud). It may not have been the first western to do any of those things, but the sophistication and depth it brought to the combination helped define a new approach, anticipating revisionist westerns to come. It certainly anticipates Mann’s subsequent westerns, films with an expressionistic style that hovers between film noir and the kinds of family melodramas made by Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk, while never skimping on what you might call the conventional pleasures of the western. Mann takes full advantage of the trappings of the genre, telling his tales of psychological conflicts, bad families and tortured heroes through gunfights, chases, brawling, hats and guns and horses, Indians and card players, against a backdrop of magnificent landscapes. And all of it is integrated, the action sequences advance psychologically acute character arcs, the locations and sets shape the emotional trajectory of the films, creating films that reward infinite attention, without detracting from their effectiveness as entertainment. They are remarkable films. (more…)

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jesse 8

By Dean Treadway

The passage of time, and of eras, overwhelms the first frames as cinematographer Roger Deakins aims his camera into the ether, catching time-lapsed storm clouds speeding through the Missouri skies, with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ tick-tocky score sounding like mournful timepieces ringing out the end of one hour, and the beginning of another. We first see Brad Pitt’s Jesse James as a pensive, well-loved 34-year-old family man fervently contemplating his humanity and his concomitant mortality. The eloquent narration–some of the best ever written for a film–begins by illustrating Jesse’s foibles, normalcies, lies, physical flaws, and almost superhuman charisma. Actor/filmmaker Hugh Ross is the unseen narrator, who speaks in third-person as if he were dissecting this tale’s movements with scientific fervor; his serious, folksy voice is perhaps the most important in the movie, because it’s the authoritative voice of human history–the same history that will ensnare and mangle the lives of our two title characters. Writer/director Andrew Dominik, working from Ron Hansen’s novel, laboriously crafts the language of this narration, making it feel like it was cribbed from an 1882 St. Louis newspaper. Even the film’s title–The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford–reads like a bold headline over a story one might’ve consumed the day following Ford’s notorious bullet. This use of antiquated speech, inspired by Hansen’s work, is one of many tricks that Dominik deftly employs as a time-travel devise in this masterful period piece. Often, experiencing this picture’s sights and sounds feels like being hypnotized and transported directly into the heel of the 19th Century. (more…)

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by Ed Howard
Another filmmaker with a distinctly moral perspective in his films was Anthony Mann, the premier stylist of the American Western. The Naked Spur is the third entry in Mann’s run of Westerns starring James Stewart, probably the best run of Westerns ever to come out of Hollywood. Mann’s hard-edged look at the American frontier, and his unconventional conception of the Western “hero” — the quotes were often required for Mann’s leads — found their perfect realization in Stewart. In Mann’s films, he inevitably positioned Stewart’s character as a morally ambiguous, distanced figure acting out of self-interest rather than any moral imperative. Here, Stewart plays a former rancher who was betrayed by his girlfriend and lost his land. In order to get it back, he becomes a bounty hunter, tracking down a murderous local outlaw (Robert Ryan) in order to bring him in for a reward. Along the way, Stewart unwillingly takes on two partners, an amiable old gold-seeker (Millard Mitchell), and a corrupt ex-cavalryman (Ralph Meeker). When the trio manage to capture Ryan (and his companion, Janet Leigh), the outlaw begins playing them off each other, awakening instincts for greed, lust, and hatred in the three men. (more…)

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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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