Posts tagged “Clint Eastwood

Logan (2017)

Now this is a rarity, a review of a superhero film. Previously I’ve seen a few superhero films, I could give a list – mainly X-Men, as I grew up with the cartoon as a child. Only a few months ago I caught Deadpool (2016), yes I’m a bit slower when it comes to the costumed characters. When I heard this film in the same breath of the Western I was more interested in seeing Logan (2017) billed as being Hugh Jackman‘s final outing as the angry clawed loner. Also to be the first and possibly worthy film for the character – which I can’t really comment on.

I can however draw on my understanding of the Western in relation to Logan, which will take up the majority of my time here. So let’s get under, saddle up and ride on out. Or in Logan/James Hewlett (Jackman) is a limo driver in the year 2029, living in Mexico. He is clearly tired and ravaged by time, the years haven’t been good to him. The once virile mutant filled with rage really doesn’t want to get into fight, he’s become reluctant to draw out the adamantium that have become more of a curse than before. The feeling of immortality has long faded, age and time is catching up with him. Much like in The Gunfighter (1950) – Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck) who wants to lay down his gun, tired of killing and running, wanting a normal life. His celebrity has long-lost it’s appeal, now a target for young wannabe’s hungry for that trophy and title “I shot Johnny Ringo”. Wolverine/Logan is our gunfighter who has gone into hiding, nursing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose suffering with dementia, needing medication to keep him lucid. Any drop in dosage can unleashed his now uncontrolled mental abilities can be felt on an almost planetary scale – it’s just not worth thinking about.

So if Logan is the gunfighter, Xavier is the elderly parent who once took him under his wing, brought him up to be the man he hoped to be like. It would be wrong to compare Xavier to a Walter Brennan character who acted as the older sidekick whose life experience’s are shared with our hero. We also have a mutant tracker, an albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is the unwitting sidekick who keeps both in check. We have the first of our principal characters in place now.

The film begins as it means go on, setting the tone, its hard language and bloody violence, not through Logan wanting to deliver it. Coming from a place of self-defense of self-preservation, showing that there is a place for violence in the comic book universe beyond imaginary buildings and cities being blown up in a computer. The violence leaves little to the imagination, even quick editing we are still left feel slightly queasy at the body parts being cut into and off into multiple victims throughout the film. It’s also the first time that I’ve heard Stewart swearing and as coarsely. I’m reminded of Unforgiven (1992) that sees violence rise from the embers of once prolific gunfighter William Munny (Clint Eastwood,) who picks his gun up hopefully for the last time, a big pay off that will support his family. Turning back to an old undisturbed part of his life, thought to be tamed by his dead wife. What we see is a resurgence in those aggressive emotions, the death of his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) a line has been crossed, up to this point he’s been rusty with his rifle, not able to mount a horse without assistance, a shadow of his former self. Logan is Munny just with a adamantium skeleton – no need for the rifle here.

The films director (James Mangold) has been pretty blatant in his sources of inspiration – namely Shane (1953), the titular gunfighter played by Alan Ladd who enters into civilisation if only briefly to free a town from the strangle hold of Ryker (Emile Meyer) threatening the homesteaders who were trying to make a life for themselves. Then there’s the annoying kid Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) who looked up and adored the man with a gun, who could handle it with such finesse and skill it put his own father Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) to shame, he was not the man who he wanted to look up to. That was something he had to learn and accept. The acts of violence that Shane commits are held back to the end of the film, allowing us to see this strong stoic figure who only shoots when he really needs to. This skill is more than just that, it’s a form of defense that stops him functioning in society. He ultimately has to ride on away from the homesteaders who have chosen a peaceful life. The link’s seen in a few scenes Logan, we see it literally on TV, supposed to be nearly 100 years old (76 years, but whose counting). Showing that it still hows the power to hold the attention of an audience. The scenes carefully chosen to include Shane.

Our Shane is clearly Logan whose followed by his own kid (spoiler!!) a young Mexican girl – Laura (Dafne Keen) herself on the run from an army of men and mutant who want to capture her. Her own existence is very similar to Logan’s, through no fault of her own plagued by this mutation that has been engineered, thanks to mad scientist – Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), a connection to the X-Men cannon. One of a new generation who are on the run, the gunfighter of the Marvel universe start even younger. No need for guns, they were born with their own gifts (if you can call them that.

Away from the Western connections and themes we have that of family, having only Xavier and Caliban as Logan’s family, its dysfunctional, a father figure who has become the receiver of care. Family isn’t something that comes naturally to him, the violence in him does not allow it to really happen. All he’s ever had has either left him or been killed. With the unwanted arrival of Laura his world starts to change, his perspective on life, he softens up towards the end if only reluctantly. She also acts as a way of the character carrying on in future films and the wider Marvel comic universe which I know little about. Here she’s just a child, but one with more than her share of issues to conquer in order to function. The baton’s passed here as characters die, passing them onto new ones.

I’ll end where I began, I’ll probably never again review another comic book film, this however spoke to me, my passions, the ideas in the western are very strong. You could say the comic book super hero is just another gunfighter, their adventures chronicled in the pulp that made them. The dime novels of the 1800’s did the same for Buffalo Bill and Jesse James and numerous others, the legends were being printed, the truth being blurred with each publication, which is referenced also in the film with a subtle self-awareness that doesn’t take you out of the film. You could say it’s a Western, just with an angry guy you don’t want to cross.



Rawhide (1951)

Rawhide (1951)If I’m honest I wasn’t going to write about Rawhide (1951) I was only watching it as it sounded good from the description so there I went and recorded it on a whim almost. It doesn’t even conform to the themes I’m exploring in my work at present, or the exploration of that film I’ve mentioned far too often recently. It also bares no relation to the later long Western TV series (1959-65) which introduced us to Clint Eastwood the rest they say is history in regards that show. The film of the same name is much more forgotten today, with two actors that I have to admit aren’t my favourite either, Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward are two that have never really excited me. It seems the more I explore I find myself going in directions I never imagined. Part of that’s down to the film’s director Henry Hathaway who never failed to deliver a decent film which this is.

It’s a Western in the classical form which is something I’ve not been watching a lot of recently, wanting or finding more in the films I’ve been choosing. It’s a good old-fashioned good versus bad which is the foundation of the film, the setting of a stagecoach station is more familiar after both Comanche Station (1960) ans more recently The Hateful Eight (2015) which itself has stronger connections with the spaghetti Western The Great Silence (1968) which are more obvious and far stronger, I can’t say too much as I have yet to see the film, for now I’ll let this video do the explaining.

I can instead draw on the slightly weaker connections to Rawhide, so there will be a few spoilers here. Again most of the action takes place in a stagecoach station, yet we start at very different points. There’s a mythical introduction of the Overland Express, a stagecoach that ran from California to St Louis and back again, taking only 25 days. For the time revolutionary, today it’s incredibly slow, the nearest we’d get today is a bullet train, how times have changed. That establishes the world are going to spend the film in before moving into the characters that are treated more unconventionally. Unlike Quentin Tarantino‘s film that merely uses the stagecoach as a form of transport to bring half the characters to Minnie’s where they’re snowed in for the rest of the film. We don’t have that claustrophobia or collection of colourful characters in the earlier film which allows the characters to move more freely.

Where it really begins to show comparisons is in the big reveal in Eight when we have the long flashback and the previous parts are revealed. When the work that the four we meet at the making preparations to the guests who are yet to arrive. Of course its more overt in the later film, with the older its only a small portion of the film as Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) and his gang of fellow in-mates who have just escaped are preparing for the evening stage to come in. The act of fooling the passengers whilst Tom Owens (Power) and Vinnie Holt (Hayward) who are held prisoner have to fight for freedom, hopefully getting word to the morning stage which is carrying the gold that Zimmerman is waiting for.

Moving away from that connection I have to look at how the characters are dealt with, the order which they’re killed off, which is rather out of traditional sequence. We begin with Stage boss Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) who is usually the drunk comic relief, I’d have hoped he would have had more screen time looking at his billing in the film, compared to others. Shot down in the first 10 minutes which is quite brave for a popular supporting actor. Then at the end of the film (yes more spoilers) Zimmerman’s shot by one of his own men Tevis (Jack Elam) who is woman hungry and uncontrollable, leaving the last gunfight to take place between Tevis and Owens. Traditionally this should have been between Owens and Zimmerman, however a risks taken here, its more realistic to see infighting of a gang that crumbles at the end when it becomes all too much.

There is no real clear hero, at least a male hero as we find when the final shots come from the only woman (Hayward) in the film, much the same as Marshal Will Kane’s Quaker wife Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly) who saves her husband. These two women break the mold of gunfighter’s, picking up a gun and saving the day. Owens is too much f a coward, dropping his gun at the sight of a child being shot at, instead of preventing that atrocious act being seen through. What this shows it a few things, that not all men are built to carry a gun and fight with it. Women are more than able to defend themselves. Children were also involved in these dangerous gunfight’s, something we also see in The Deadly Companions (1961) where a child’s death is at the centre of the film. The child in the earlier plays a much smaller part, which is built up for tension at the end, dangers being directed at the little girl whose in the care of her Aunt who was only trying to bring her to her paternal grandparents. This is years before we have women and children thrown into the action of The Wild Bunch (1969). Tame for sure but you have to start somewhere.

Looking quickly at the Susan Hayward who as beautiful her screen presence is she’s easily suits the West, adding both beauty whilst not being afraid to muck in as we see her digging a hole. Most women of the West are either farmers wives or dancers, she is clearly neither of those types. A single woman who takes a big risk to travel across the country with a young child in tow. I might be looking out for more of her work in future. The rests of the cast are all well-defined, I see similarities in Gratz (George Tobias) and O.B. (James Parks) yet the latter is more educated than the Mexican who simply follows orders and can’t see what is really going on around him.

Made at the beginning of the 1950’s we have a decade of more emotion and psychology entering the genre. Its a small injection of something different to the genre that is about to be shaken from its classic form to reveal more exciting imagery and ideas.

Paint Your Wagon (1969)

Paint Your Wagon (1969)This is one film I have been either putting off or just plain avoiding. The very idea of both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood two heavy leading men in Westerns just put me right off for years. It took a “what the hell” moment to take the plunge what this comedy Western Musical, yes three genres for the price of one. I knew from past visual research the film had some connection with the gold-rush, a mass of wooden structures and tent across a river up and down on either side littered with figures. I didn’t really pay much attention to its source, just the content for the gold-mine I was researching in 2012. That’s where I come from when it came to Paint Your Wagon (1969) knowing it would be nothing like The Simpsons parody but quietly hoped it was. I think my sister and I have added another line “Gonna used turpentine, gotta keep those brushes clean” unless there’s another clip I can’t find.

OK so moving away from my thoughts going into the film before the release of the film there really wasn’t many gold digging films before 1969, looked at only briefly as only an aspect of frontier life. Not the setting for a whole film, just a passing location. Not as focused as The Spoilers (1942) which is just off the top of my head. Films usually centering around greed and power that the yellow metal can produce once found. We don’t really leave this once location for long. Instead we become immersed in this male dominated world, in a male dominated genre that sees women pushed to the sidelines. This very aspect of the genre’s poked and prodded for the first hour.

Taking a step back to having both Marvin and Eastwood in the same film which would be a dream come true if it was a straight Western it would be too much to handle. Instead I have to settle for a musical which if I’m honest has encouraged me to write a review and consider the genre in a different way once more. As much it is a chance for escapism and a sing along. I couldn’t imagine either two of these actors really singing or taking it seriously. I know that Marvin had a hit with Wand’rin’ Star not really wanting to believe that fact until I see it. As an audience we don’t really expect them to sing not perfect even before the days of auto-tune. Instead they do hit the notes but they aren’t blowing me away. Saying that, it doesn’t matter as this s out of the ordinary, much like Mama Mia (2008) we don’t want sopranos or trained professionals. They instead do the job fine and have fun doing it.

Thinking like that it means that, the film’s aimed at two audiences, with music for the music lovers and the actors for the rest, it’s a win-win situation. Added that you like Westerns you are getting an extra treat.

Going back to the themes of the film, a overally masculine film which knows it can stay that way, I wouldn’t call it modern though, thinking of progress in frontier terms. The male dominated gold mining town of No Name needs women to satisfy certain urges and needs that have been going without for so long. With the arrival of a Mormon and his two wives, one being the headstrong Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) who under the laws of the goldmine’s sold to the highest bidder – Ben Rumson (Marvin) who in turn shares with her with his mining partner Pardner (Eastwood). The morals of the day are mocked and trivialized. The power of religion’s mocked at the beginning, living by their own laws that work in a male dominated society under mining laws, all finds are filed and legal, It makes sense in the days before California was given statehood have to fend for themselves. I found Seberg’s involvement in the film odd at times, coming more from a world of French New Waves to a big-budget musical. Working off two actors who as big as the genre who work well opposite her. She’s no longer the free-loving girl of Breathless she has grown up.

As the film progresses the need for women increases as two men live with a similar arrangement to Mormon’s. The society adopt and adapt whatever ideas that make life easier for them and why not if everyone is happy. All this leads up to the boom-town that all gold-mines have become before they climax and collapse. With the kidnapping of French prostitutes times are indeed a-changing and for the better for a time. A town grows over night, gold is making this town come alive, more come to take advantage of the delights and sins that are within the mountains. Enter the Parson (Alan Dexter) whose mocked at every turn up the very end of the film. With the arrival of winter storm Elizabeth takes in a religious family who are innocent to the sins of this town. We see both Pardner and Elizabeth change overnight almost whilst boisterous and un-tamable Rumson who opens the eyes of the oldest to what can indulge himself, sins that make him a man of the frontier.

It’s a musical that mocks the genre at time when it had grown tired and for time it raises it up to become something bigger and magical. Songs that to me aren’t largely important. They move the film forward, mainly light and celebratory in tone. Based on folk songs of the period larger than life pieces that stop the film for five minutes as one character sings their heart out. They do uplift without a doubt with a heavy dose of humour which ensured I stayed the course of the film as it falls into farce meeting reality as the town collapsing and people begin to move on to the next boo town so the cycle would begin again.  

American Sniper (2014)

American Sniper (2014I can certainly see how American Sniper (2014) has become Clint Eastwood most successful film. It’s easy to see why after finally watching it for myself after deciding to let it pass me by. Not really the biggest fan of Bradley Cooper whose more of a pretty face than Academy standard, which I just can’t fathom really, a personal thing really. However here he does get my attention here, I’ll explain why below.

So why is Sniper Clint’s best film, at least in terms of box-office, I still see Unforgiven (1992) as his masterpiece, a film he’d been working up to for years, waiting until he was old enough to play the lead. Sniper to a Brit comes across as a piece of propaganda bought and paid for by the Republican party. It could easily have been made during World War two, it’s so heavily laden with patriotism that there are times there is too much to handle. I’m used to the that in American war films that celebrate the armed forces or the chosen individual. These are their heroes and right want to praise their actions, with commendations, medals and much more in their honor. There’s definitely a culture clash going on here when I’m watching this, probably for anyone whose not American. It’s American to its core, which ensured its success. Allowing Clint to now pull of his biggest coup to date, luring Doris Day out of retirement to work with him. He really can do anything he wants.

A biopic about the most decorated sniper Chris Kyle who also holds the highest death count when you think about it is not something we in the UK would want to celebrate. Doing his bit for Queen and country would really just be kept safe from those wanted to kill them. The public would never hear of them, kept behind the Official secrets act they would have signed. There’s also the depiction and celebration of guns which after a short time becomes too much and I began to shut off from the sight and sound of them, I probably saw more of the guns than I did of Cooper at times. Without the weapons we wouldn’t have the film.

The films job is to celebrate the career, the life, the kill-count (probably) and his legacy. He starts as your average red-neck wannabe cowboy who feels he can do so much more than just bring it the cattle. It’s not until he sees the troops under attack, he feels compelled to enlist. There’s no other history or drive behind this decision which makes it rather knee-jerk to me. He’s just another man who wants to serve his country, nothing new there. We have a weird training sequence before they’re called into action after 9/11. This is an important moment on two levels, its one of those moments which transcended the possibilities of film which is now contained in a film, that drives and changes the course of Kyle’s life.

Taking us then back to the very beginning of the film where he is on a rooftop, that now over-played scene from the trailer. His first few kills are then carried out. Where we basically remain for the rest of the film, bang, bang, bang and bang another terrorist, guy with a missiles brought down. It felt like an extended advert for the N.R.A. Yes It was too much even for me. Part of me was wanting to watch Enemy at the Gates (2001) again that built up the man to be the hero for the Russian as morale booster. I admit that with the raids it did break up the repetition you are reengaged with the action as they fight terrorism on ground level.

We did spend time away from the front line of modern war-fare, his private life with Taya (Sienna Miller) who becomes his wife and mother to his children who is left at home. Which would have been more so unless they didn’t have her phone calls to the war-zone which I still can’t fathom if they really happened. Your husband off to war, just calls in in-between killing someone. It feels like a really silly way to get her into the film. The phone calls do allow her into Kyle’s world, she can understand/experience his world if only in terms of audio. To me it’s just too silly to be believable.

I think I’ve said all I can say about Sniper, it’s basically a tribute more than a biography to the soldier who became and American hero. We do see his human side after returning, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, showing he’s just as fallable and human as the rest of us, put in situations we can only imagine. Its a film that only America could, can and did make and love, which is far enough, for a British guy its just too much.

Painting the Town…

I found out a few weeks ago that the origin of the saying “Paint the Town Red”  which I saw taking on a literally meaning in High Plains Drifter (1972) has roots in my home county. The town of Melton Mowbray to be more specific.

It is said that year is when the Marquis of Waterford and a group of friends ran riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town’s toll-bar and several buildings red.

If the history is correct or not in terms of origin of the phrase, it does change the my perception of the phrase which is known today more for having a good night out. Going back to the film which the man with no name Clint Eastwood ordered the town of Lagos painted red, and renamed Hell. Which this bright tone of red does conjure up.

The idea that a colour in block form can change the tone of a location is something I want to look at in a future piece. My initial thoughts are to build a model set that’s painted white, before being re-lit in different light. Being initial this would be a quick response that would ignore colour theory, the power that certain colours create and signify. I may even make a few trip to Melton, making a site-specific piece. It’s very early days and I have a few other pieces that have been quietly waiting to take form in the studio. My next piece could be a performance I made earlier this year. I need to see how that works out. Also I am considering a piece that pits both John Wayne and Clint Eastwood against each other.

Before any of those ideas can go any further than my head I need to complete my short film as the new year begins.

High Plains Drifter (1973) Revisited

High Plains Drifter (1973)My first encounter with this film was on my birthday during the install of my degree show. I was recommended to watch it by a friend who knew I would like it. That’s an understatement, I loved it. My memory of High Plains Drifter (1973) has long since faded, all I could remember was the ghoulish red town and the whipping flash-backs which stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In terms of the western genre this has more in common with its Italian cousin, the spaghetti western which strictly speaking are not westerns, they have the form of the genre but don’t really have the language of the American full-breed which if I’m honest are less violent during their greatest period. The violence was exploited and amplified. Once you get over the dubbing of all but the American star of the film (Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood et al.) you have this pumped up action film with more sex and violence than you’d have found to that point in the home of the genre. They didn’t carry the legendary status in the characters as subtly as Shane (1953), having built them up in the opening titles as these already fastest guns in the west-types such as Django (1966) where we are treated to another installment. Back home they’re stirred into action, not wanting to fight and draw their guns so easily, having more progression in the gunfighters.

Looking at Clint Eastwood’s influences his time with Sergio Leone strongly influenced him, the violence the stranger with no name, the anti-hero who you end up routing for comes out on top. His first western behind the camera he is still find his own unique voice, one he is adopting from the persona of the man with no name. The tone of Drifter is very European, its hard to sum up in a few sentences, the town looks freshly built, making it more become a backdrop that standout, it’s a newish town that is trying to sustain itself. Laying it’s foundations next to a lake that seems too close for comfort, suggesting it could all be washed away in stormy night. It all becomes very fragile. The town of Lago is actually another character that’s abused in the film (more about abuse later) which we see is transformed, blown up and eventually burnt down. Its part on the film is on some levels more important than the people who inhabit it.

Turning to the townspeople I’m reminded of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a town with a dark secret that is bubbling on the surface ready to spill over. Except we don’t have a strong replacement for the mean Robert Ryan who did actually scare the life out of Spencer Tracy (during filming) who was the outsider looking for the truth. The secrets a lot looser here as the film takes on more of a horror tone, Clint’s not giving us a straight Western, it’s a Western-Horror complete with flashbacks which you don’t really see in genre, that plague your mind. A sequence which is played out at least twice but feels a lot more in the mind. It’s the conscience of the town put on the screen.

There is also a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven (1960) or should I say more precisely The Seven Samurai (1954) a cowardly town turn here to one outsider (not seven) that is more dangerous than the men they have been home to for at least a year that have played host to that have just been killed. Except these are all Mexicans who are fighting off bandito’s, they are American citizens who should by rights be able to pick up a gun and fight without fear. They seen off the Mexicans and almost solved the “Indian problem“, why are they so afraid? They need Clint’s stranger who doesn’t really care for them at all. Which leads me back to the flashbacks which are very important in our understanding of who he is, or in fact was. He is not so much flesh and blood as he has ghostly presence, he knows more about the town than he lets on. I believe he is ghost of the whipped town Marshall Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) who we see in versions of the same scene that we’re reminded off. It’s the reason that The Stranger is here, the reason the town’s scared of the men who will be riding back for revenge after a year in prison. We follow these men back, they are ruthless in their journey, killing for horses, clothes and fun, these are dangerous men for sure.

The Stranger’s presence in Lago shakes everything up, from his first hours he has raped a woman Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) which is brutal to watch, yet filmed from the woman’s perspective a glimmer of what is to come from Unforgiven (1992) nearly 20 years later. As much as Eastwood is a feminist he wants to come across as the revengeful type who will take what he wants. Maybe this was Duncan’s lover, we just don’t know. We do know that she vocal in her experience to the law who simply want to pacify her modern views that wont be accepted until the next century. We don’t linger as much on the rape as we do in Eastwood’s later film which hinges on request of the prostitute who places a bounty on the man who disfigured her. From a lower position in society they are exerting more power than the men who want to keep both cases quiet. Ironically their next encounter is much more consensual after working his charm and danger, as if he has broken a horse in, now he simply has to ride it when he wants (yes I know it’s a poor analogy but suits the film).

Here in Lago having The Stranger in town is very much to their advantage who abuses that power. From the beginning he turns things on there head. With a free card to do as he please, have what he wants he makes the much small person Mordecai (Billy Curtis) the sheriff and mayor of the town, the butt of the jokes, is placed in the strongest position behind the stranger. He’s not there for comedy with Clint who wants to play with these people who are fighting themselves more than they had before. It’s chaos in Lago. In-fact Mordecai’s built up, from being this typically comedic role to one of great importance, he uses his position to abuse those who have given him s*** for years, now it’s his turn. He is also another way into the past of the town, he too has a connection to the late Marshall, which may lead to his role in the film being so prominent.

I could go on forever about this film there is a lot going on so I’m going to turn instead to the ending which once again got me thinking of another piece I could make in the future, as the town is literally painted red, bringing new meaning to the phrase, which ironically has roots in my home county of Leicestershire in the town of Melton Mowbray when the Marquis ran riot causing mayhem and literally painting the town red in places. This is too strong to be coincidence, turning the idea on its head so the townspeople are causing the mayhem, they are preparing themselves, practically inviting the trouble. Renaming the town Hell, which has move to the surface of the Earth. The town can be seen far quiet a distance now, in one uniform colour of bright fake-blood.

All brought about by Eastwood’s ghost which is more than just showing up the town. He is getting revenge on them all, luring them into a false sense of security before deaths unleashed upon them. The role of the gunfighter’s turned on its head, no longer is he the gun for hire or protector of the people he is using his position to induce fear and draw it from his own past. Could he be the devil as the film draws to a close, he rode literally out of nothing and back into nothing, as if the ghost can now rest peacefully knowing that he has settled his unfinished business. Eastwood early on is showing that the standard western has to change, with his Italian influences and the changing language of cinema. You could say this is more fun than the formulaic Western but that would be ignoring the level of violence and rape that goes on. He is definitely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the genre which he is reshaping in his image.

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The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) Revisited

Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)My initial review of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) was rather fleeting capturing the flavor of the incredible western. Another one I had to watch after further reading which has encouraged me to revisit the film. First I had practically forgotten the plot, thinking it was about a Confederate who goes mad shooting everyone in his path, blood spurting everywhere, bodies falling to the ground, shooting in glorious form. (sounds disturbing when you think about it, glorifying violence)

With a fresh set of eyes, some theory in my head I came to this film with more excitement, a faded memory of the plot. Opening with a scene that couldn’t but stir even the hardest of hearts, a family man Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) who has no sides to take is forced to join the Confederate army after a group of rebel Union soldiers killed his family and burnt the family home, his life as a simple family man and farmer is over. He has no purpose beyond exacting revenge against the  Red Legs who had wronged him, changing his life. Of course the Civil War has to come first a chance to get out all that anger that has built up within him, hopefully he can get it out of his system. All in the form of a graphic montage of violence as they go from campaign to campaign before history and reality catch up with the men he’s joined up with.

The Surrender. A chance to put the past behind them, be accepted back into a country that has been torn apart. An early turning point in the film that redirects Wales after the offer of surrender, a shameful handing over of all that makes him and his fellow soldiers men, unable to defend themselves in civilian life, stripped on man-hood. It doesn’t sit right with Wales who stays behind, just as the men lose their dignity and then their lives. Wales can trust no one who is white, both sides have turned on him. Still full of anger we see a man with no place in White America head for Native America. A reading I didn’t find the first time, a white men heads off to enemy territory, as yet untamed by his own kind who can’t even be trusted by the Natives who have had treaty made and ultimately broken.

What’s special about this western is that all the Native Americans are all played by Natives, a fairer and more honest representation of the Race that has been poorly depicted on-screen since the dawn of cinema, they are not cliché’s are caricatures. There’s a welcome return for Chief Dan George as the elder Native Lone Watie who is not a chief, just an old man, who plays the role for black comedy. Much darker than his previous big role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man (1970) which was more about what make Native American’s better than the white man whose seen her lower than human in their eyes. Lone Watie is more a a jaded old man who just wants to be free, to live his life free of White determination and influence in his life. This appeals to Wales who really has nowhere to go, except South of the border.

I thought originally Wales traveled alone through the open country as he’s followed by pursing bounty hunters, his own kind, ex-confederates who have little other purpose, unable to live the life they fought for, no money, take up a gun and hunt any wanted man. Wales is the ultimate bounty to be caught, killed and cashed in upon. It’s up to his adversary Fletcher (John Vernon) who once lead him into battle leads a Union force of men, the Red Legs to hunt the one they left behind and still can’t catch up with through the film. Destroying my original memory of Wales going after these men who are in-fact after him. The one loner Wales builds up his own group of friends, not collecting men packing guns but Natives, old men and women and the often quiet Laura Lee (Sondra Locke) who starts out as a victim of circumstance, stuck with her daughter as they travel to her brothers home. Not exactly the band of men we would usually seeing riding together, more like a rag-tag wagon-train of misfits.

As they travel South there are tense moment when Wales encounters hunter after hunter met with dark music building up moments that are only broken by quick gun shots and wise words delivered in quick succession easing things once more. Allowing us to go on building up the cast. It’s a western with a strong distinctive difference, Clint Eastwood’s second Western he directed, he knows the genre inside out, making sense of it in a new light. Trying to correct it in some ways, using language with the Natives that is not demeaning, those scenes are rich and meaningful. On an acting front Wales’s character is something to be feared, the persona of the loner long ago established is fleshed out more so here, and inverting it surrounding him with other outsiders. We have a gunfighter who has left civilization trying to find a place to live outside of that world. We leave the security of the familiar frontier town setting for the rugged landscape that brings only danger. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a tightly woven western that unpick the genre without going into satire, correcting it without being too tongue and cheek, it’s very much about the gunfighter who wants to find his place in the world after all the shots were first fired.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

Play Misty For Me (1971)A few years ago I attempted to watch Play Misty for Me (1971) I was really off, it didn’t last more than a few scenes. It had really aged, the titles, the music, the look of the whole thing was cheesy, a relic to be forgotten from the 1970’s. A decade that would go on to see Clint Eastwood flourish and grow as a director and other like him have incredible freedom with their work. I just put this film to the back of my mind like a bad night in town, messy and nothing you want to dwell on.

Then over the following years I began to read and hear more about this film, maybe I should give this “horror” a second look and even that took sometime to squeeze into my busy viewing schedule. Until recently I took the bull by the horns and got it ready to revisit and sit myself down for the entirety of the film. So here I am now, what are my thoughts on this I must admit dated thriller that does precursor the “bunny boiler” genre which got its name thanks to Glenn Close‘s culinary skills in Fatal Attraction (1987). The stalker sub-genre was born…kind off. You have to admit for Eastwood a man of action this is quite a departure, there’s not a gun in sight which is another brave move by the director who also stars, something he has been able to juggle on countless films since.

Ok with the history of the film in place, lets turn to the plot which is pretty strong on the whole, radio d.j. Dave (who has been getting the regular calls from a fan, requesting Misty be played, just a regular fan who knows what she wants to be played, sounds innocent enough…right? It’s after he meets Evelyn (Jessica Walter) by coincidence at a bar, which turns into a long night with no strings attached. We have a slight idea of who she could be from the caller at the station. There’s no way of knowing until we see her a few days later just turn up out of the blue. Trouble is definitely afoot for Dave who is having problems with his girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills) who is trying to sort her head out.

The focus is on Evelyn who builds up this fantasy relationship between her and Dave which we can see is clearly not right. Becoming intrusive, overly caring, just walking in whenever she wants. Evelyn is very much today a caricature of the obsessive woman turning into comedy at times today. Still the effect she has on Dave is enough for the film to hold up, the fear that she inflicts upon him is enough for me to want to see what she does next which shows the film works on some level. The scenes of violence also lean towards comedy today which also shows how much this film has dated. It’s the moments of tension that hold this film together. There’s even a homage to Psycho (1960) which Eastwood just about pulls off. The role of the possessed is reversed here. It’s a brave move which almost pays off, the villainous role of the male is given to a female which is even today rarely seen in main-stream film.

On reflection its a half decent film by then first-time director Eastwood showing what he can do both behind and in front of the camera. So you have to give him his dues there. The film struggles to hold up completely, but can be seen as a landmark in his career at least. You could say it was a trail-blazer; allowing other actresses  to play the part of the villain and better too.I can see what he is capable of even at this stage of his career. I am well aware of his later work which has seen him become a much respected director today. We all have to start somewhere I guess.

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Slow West (2015)

Slow West (2015)This is one of those films that only come to town thanks to my local independent cinema which I have sadly and admittedly have under-used, Thankfully The Phoenix in Leicester gave me that opportunity to catch Slow West (2015). I am indeed being treated to a few westerns this year, whatever form they care to come in. Much like the previous The Salvation (2014) is European in tone, well more so the latter really. In terms of tone, Slow West has more in common with offbeat westerns made in Hollywood, the only one I can think of in The Missouri Breaks (1976) which I am still very unsure about. Maybe because it is played more for laughs before you get those twist that leave you in the cold.

Anyway coming to date here we have a splendid little film where not a lot really happens from the moment that young Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is bribed into being escorted by man of the west Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender who also narrates) across the open country. We soon learn the motivation behind this gesture. As Jay is in search of his sweetheart who moved out to America, whilst not aware of her background as an outlaw who has escaped with her father in hopes of an easier life.

With the premise in place we set out, that’s not after the first draw of the guns which end quite surprisingly really. The language of the Western has been simplified and amplifying that fact to great effect. It’s having fun as this love-struck young man makes his way across dangerous open country. Getting himself in situations and growing up, making his first kill (not saying we should all do that). It’s full of surprises, taking heavily from the Coen Brothers style of twisting the plot at times to keep you on your toes. There was very little in the way of twists in their western True Grit (2010) finding more in common with Millers Crossing (1990). It is more authentic whilst also taking licence to be unique, as we meet Silas’s old gang lead by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) who plays a very much larger than life gunfighter who plays is cool, trying to get Silas to once more ride with him as they are both after the same bounty. 

I’m also reminded of Clint Eastwood‘s nameless bounty hunter from the dollars trilogy, single-minded, out for himself and taking advantage of the situation at hand. I don’t think that Fassbender is doing this intentionally as he does grow to love the young man, developing a mutual respect for each other. You could say the events make no sense as one random thing moves the film forward or gives it a jolt in the arm. Things literally do come out of nowhere, making it’s a refreshing film to watch, not just as western but something that really does make you sit up and think “what just happened?”

It also comments of the aborignals if only briefly in prophetic form via Werner (Andrew Robertt) a travelling author who is documenting the Native American’s demise. Slow West is commenting on the genre and Anericas past without being giving us a lecture about it. Even when we see them they are treated with respect, yet they are still faceless and nameless bar one. 

Technically it’s unique, shot in an old screen ratio of 1.66:1 that really makes this something special to watch, not your stand 16:9 ratio, everything is carefully composed in this more confined space, pieces do fall out, yet it’s more intimate to watch in this format. Cinematographically there are some great compositions, especially at the end during the gunfight, making use of the landscape to really enhance the gunfight. All this before ending on a bombshell of sorts, here we don’t have that happy ending that we would have from Hollywood, as they embrace. Instead it more realistic, not in the face of our expectations for them to ride off into the sunset. Making this refreshing to watch and enjoy, a shot in the arm once more for a genre as one review (paraphrasing) says it not quite up there in boot hill just yet which is reassuring to know as new ways are found to keep it alive.

The Gunfighter (1950) Revisited

The Gunfighter (1950)I’ve watched two gunfighter westerns in a row now, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and now The Gunfighter (1950), both of which I’ve not seen in sometime. Both sharing the theme of the life of the gunfighter, not having a place to call his own. A reputation built upon fear and sheer luck, not able to stay in one place for too long. I could stop the review there,I have just summed up The Gunfighter in a few sentences, but that wouldn’t do the film justice, which isn’t fair. So I will be going to explore this very short film that takes place mostly in a saloon bar-room. Used as a place of hide-out from the rest of the world that is wanting to put a bullet in him.

After running from one town at the beginning where he is tested by a “squirt” who wants to makes his mark in the world, to earn a name is gunned down legally (back in the Wild West) which at the time is still acceptable. The right to defend yourself is enshrined into the American Bill of Right you can understand the countries relationship with the deadly weapon. That hasn’t really changed much, of course you need a licence now and a motive for defence has to be rigorously tested in court. The Gunfighter explores the psyche of the gunfighter properly for the first time here. The giant men of the west such a Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and the likes are or were dangerous men who have been glorified. Earp did as we know become a marshal as I have recently seen portrayed by Burt Lancaster. Both Earp and Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck (in The Gunfighter)) both have learnt from past gun-fights that it’s not really a life to aspire for. It’s an aspect masculinity that is really a flaw that needs to be kept in check. To know when to draw a gun, to defend oneself.

Packed into the short running time we have the repercussions of that last gunfight as three brothers come after him. That’s not before we discover how good Ringo is with a gun, he is not a man to be messed with. Or one that wants to mess around, wanting the quiet life nowbecoming to talk of the town where we spend the majority of the film. The saloon, his hide-out from the world, and probably where he killed most of his victims all over the West, it’s only the interior and people that change. It also reflects how trapped he is, unable to move freely for the reputation that precedes him. Boys skipping school to catch a glimpse of what they believe to be an idol in their town, seeing him as a role model and not a murderer.

It’s thanks to old friends such as Marshal Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell) that support him, keeping him safe from those wanting to try their luck with Ringo. Learning that Strett is himself a reformed gunfighter who went straight to now enforcing the law. We also have Mac the barman (Karl Malden) who is both in awe of Ringo yet is able to look beyond to see the man without the gun. A man who just wants to see his old flame, school teacher Peggy Walsh (Helen Westcott) who couldn’t accept him. Forcing him to leave her and his son behind.

The Gunfighter is not all about the action  that comes from bar-room brawls and quarrels that have to be sorted like gentlemen out of the street. Its about having to deal with your path in life and how it affects other people. Taking the route of violence may have its appeal at first, which wears off when you start to really hurt and kill. Summed up far better by William Munny (Clint Eastwood) years later in a few lines.

“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

William Munny (Clint Eastwood) Unforgiven (1992)

When you look into the life of a gunfighter once the crowds have gone, what do you really have? People living in fear, families of victims wanting vengeance and justice, the fear of someone being faster than you are. That’s before you get the glory that comes with the title of being a gunfighter, not to be crossed or wronged. Losing out on having a family and a partner to call your own. The Gunfighter starts to take the western seriously, the figures of the West before were seen as heroic figures before the law takes them down or they change their ways. Now the western is growing up as the 1950’s are beginning.

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