I’m hoping to see 4 of Sam Peckinpah films, Straw Dogs (1971) is the first one out of the gates, and very much by chance too. I remember reading about the film long before I really considered seeking it out – the article focused on the infamous rape scene which is probably one of the most violent scenes I have ever watch on screen. It was also a chance to see how the director, a few years after the success of The Wild Bunch (1969) and the quirky melancholic musical Western The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) with far less violence than it’s predecessor. Moving forward he would be going across the Atlantic to a completely different environment – Great Britain, involved in no conflicts, yet struggling with rolling strikes and blackouts. The summer of love is long behind us and things are looking bleak.
Mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) has moved to rural Cornwall to be with his new wife Amy (Susan George) who from the first few minutes is very much seen from the male gaze, the camera pans down to focus on her chest, clearly not wearing a bra. Partly out of women’s liberation and easily seen as a directorial decision to engage the male before they’re shocked later on in the film. They have just bought a hunting trap, Peckinpah has sewn a seed early on for what to expect later on. You can’t remove the potential image for violence, a man caught within the teeth of the trap that for most of the film’s fixed to the wall. I notice early on, children are dancing in a graveyard, whilst local pedophile Niles (David Warner) looks on quietly at them, not fully aware of what he’s capable of. I’m wondering where he fits into the dynamic of the film, hovering in the background used as a minor character. Warner is sadly not even credited for his role which is staggering when you see his role increase at a pivotal moment in the film.
We learn that Sumner decided to move into his wife’s family home to allow him to study and write his book, something he really wants to focus on. Having escaped his own countries violence, he can finally begin with hopefully fewer distractions. That’s not considering the sexual distraction of his newly wed wife, who sees the world around her far differently to the naive American intellectual whose still finding his feet in this foreign world. They have employed roofers who leer over Amy at any chance they get. The only attractive female in the film, she’s the only object of desire her even though she’s married, it doesn’t stop their actions. David is oblivious to all of this until he is forced to confront what is only going to be an increase of violence against the couple. I’ve not even touched upon Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughan) who spends the first half of the film in the local pub, seen as the town drunk. We don’t yet know how much power he yields over the men in the village. He’s the Cornish equivalent to a gang leader, a translation of the Western villain to British countryside. His influence and position in the community allow him a certain freedom, he’s probably never left the village since he was born.
Diversionary tactics come into play, taking David away from his wife on what is a very British past-time; Pheasant shooting, a right of passage for those in the country and part of society. The same men who have been work on the barn roof for the couple take him away, into a civilised arena of violence. Hoffman again plays the innocent, useless with a gun at first. Instead of shooting a man, who can potentially defend himself he aims at the defenceless birds who can’t seem to kill at first. When he finally kills he’s repulsed by what he has just done. Instead of taking home his kill for dinner he leaves the lifeless bird in peace. Juxtaposed with the rape scene which the film is now known for, the build up to the attack is pretty calm, as Charlie Venner (Del Henney) whom she previously had a relationship with, moves in to forcibly seduce. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch as he gains control, ripping her clothes from her body before he rapes her. Where it becomes blurry for me is when it moves from what looks like rape to possibly consensual, she somehow accepts him and allows him to make love (in the loosest possible terms). Has she given in to his forceful actions, her past feelings overwhelm her working in his favour. The changes with the introduction of Norm Scutt (Ken Hutchison) carrying a rifle, he want a part of her, he wants a share of the action. Amy returns to being an object to be abused, returning her to a victim. I feel uncomfortable again, the sweaty bodies, is not just sexual joy, but pure terror and transfer of empowerment from woman to the men who have violated her. During the scene we have the first flourishes of slow-motion – the Peckinpah signature, here it’s to display the pain and violence towards Amy who has lost her freedom.
This experience naturally stays with Amy and the audience for the remainder of the film, we are forced to experience the imagery in a packed village hall. As she’s forcing herself to try and return to normality, it’s too. She can’t comes to terms with it during the course of the film, events won’t allow her to. When Hedden’s daughter Janice (Sally Thomsett) who we see leading Niles away to try and take advantage of him. She wants to abuse his innocence, unaware of his true nature she meets a fate similar to Lennie Hall’s victim in Of Mice and Men. Unaware of either’s power it ends fatally for Janice, the first victim of the night.
The finale of the film is long and drawn out, from what begins as a car accident develops into a full blown home invasion as Hedden on the look out for Niles now in the care of still innocent Sumner who wants to defend his house turns into a homestead under act from the natives who use all their forces to try and break through. A once civilised man is broken as he turns to violence, doing all he believes is necessary to protect his home from outsiders who want to kill his guest and obligation, wanting to do the right thing becomes very dark and murky. I’m reminded of the farmer Tony Martin who shot dead a burglar after entering his property. He too went to fatal lengths to ensure the safety of his property, sparking a nationwide debate. A real-life parallel, not as extreme as the Hollywood depiction, we can still see the lengths that even a quiet man will to.
We don’t truly get to see what happens to the last men standing, where do they go from here. Have the images of a war that have been broadcast daily on his TV been subliminally brainwashing him to pick up a gun a shoot. Has his countries love for guns become part of his identity, laying dormant ready to be awoken. I leave the film shaken by the imagery, the intensity of violence an intense and relentless barrage that we are more than glad to end. I’m now interested to see how the violence couple dynamic is carried through to The Getaway (1972), a modern day Bonnie and Clyde (1967) who get a thrill from violence, unlike the Sumner’s who used it as a last resort.
The final part of February’s Film Talk, I looked at emotions at the train station and the homes that both Vic and Joe live in.
The next is confined to train stations. Vic (Alan Bates) walking and off his steam from the argument and his drunkenness. Whilst Joe’s (Jon Voight) is running after Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) who has just conned him. In terms of emotions they are very different. Vic’s are more internalised on screen, he is very still and tired. Whilst Joe’s is very external which we see in a combination of reality in colour and his desire in black and white, along with a flashback, a lot of emotion is on the screen. (Stills below)
Lastly the accommodation that Vic and Joe move into, Vic moves into two homes with Ingrid (June Ritchie), once at home and we presume in a flat at the end after looking around a shared house together Whilst Joe has reluctantly moved into Ratso’s condemned flat. (Stills below)
In both films we don’t see the much if any of the glamour of the 1960’s. Instead we have a more realistic representation of life from the early 1960’s with a couple who marry out of obligation before trying to make a go of married life post miscarriage. At the end of the 1960’s we have a young man whose dreams of being a hustler are dashed by the modern perceptions before learning what is more important in life taking the form of Ratso’s friendship.
After showing a portion of A Kind of Loving (1962) I moved onto Midnight Cowboy (1969)that was John Schlesinger‘s last film of the decade. It was the first X rated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and another two, Best Director and best-adapted screenplay.
On the surface it doesn’t share the same themes of the earlier film if anything it’s a more personal piece by Schlesinger a successful homosexual director bringing these themes to the film. It follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight) a young Texan who decides to move to New York to try his luck in his own words as a Hustler, believing his authentic cowboy image is going to attract all the women. Unaware of the images true connotations. It’s not until he gets there and is befriended by Ratso – Dustin Hoffman does he slowly begin to realize what is happening. The dream of success on the streets is shattered much like that of the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s. I noticed that financially he’s always paying out and not earning in return for his “work”, things slowly get worse for him. Midnight Cowboy can be seen as the culmination of the 1960’s the pill has long been in use, allowing for more promiscuity and sexual freedom. We are seeing the results over in the States. I’d like to share a few scenes from both films back to back to show the similarities between them.
The first is the Father son chat about the future – A Kind of Loving, and Joe properly meeting Ratso – Midnight Cowboy. (Stills below)
The second we find our characters on coaches; Vic and Ingrid (June Ritchie) on the Coach – A Kind of Loving and Joe on the Coach to New York – Midnight Cowboy (Stills below)
All are starting out on new directions, the honey moon couple who as we see are de-flowered twice in a few minutes, once on the coach as they take the flowers from the button holes, and sexually. Whilst Joe is going to live out his American dream.
The third we see both Vic and Joe in arguments, Again we see Mrs. Rothwell (Thora Hird), Ingrid’s Mum giving Vic her honest opinion. And Ratso telling Joe how it is regarding his Cowboy image. (stills below)
The final two comparisons I will look at emotions at the train station and the homes that both Vic and Joe live in, which will be in the final part 3
I can’t really call this a revisit as this was first watch before I was watching films to in the volume I do now, so Rain Man (1988) sadly doesn’t count. I decided to revisit this film purely on a comment made during Mad City (1997). I vaguely remembered the earlier film, all that I did was that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman were brothers. An idea I initially thought was in-plausible on the face of it. It took another look to see what the film was really about beyond this relationship.
Well its all about the relationship really between these estranged brothers. It’s the themes explored about them that make this a rewarding film. One that would hopefully not get remade, and sadly would not get green-lit today in Hollywood unless it was an indie film. I fear today that the theme of Autism would be mocked, turning it into a comedy which is just inappropriate. The inclusion and depiction of people with disabilities has improved in the last decade, however a film is a rare and brave move. What made it work was the spell-binding and Oscar-winning performance by Hoffman who submerges into this man Raymond Babbit who merely looks and sounds like him. What he portrays is a man who is lost and controlled by his disability, with sensitivity and acute attention to detail. One of a long line if actors who has snapped up the golden statue for taking such a deep plunge, taking a bigger risk paid off for him and the audience who believe him completely.
Paired opposite a young Tom Cruise as the yuppie Charlie Babbit basically playing Tom Cruise as we knew him in the 1980’s. Under financial pressure, his care business is struggling, one of a number who are suffering after the crash of the decade. Still living the high life of the successful young business man. He even has the foreign girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) who gets too little time in the film. Which allows a different kind of road trip travel from Missouri to Los Angeles. Beginning as a kidnapping when Charlie is all but snubbed in his fathers will. Looking for the trustee of the $3 million dollars that can be found at the Walbrook Institute where we find Raymond trapped in his own autistic world of routine, obsessions and repetition, this is the man whose meant to have the fortune, what could he possibly want or do with it? That’s what Charlie’s thinking on meeting this man.
As much as he believes his fight is with his defenceless brother, its more intricate than that. He’s got the 1949 car he stole when he was younger. The inheritance and natural born right’s written away. He’s young, angry, grieving and has money troubles, his brother’s just adding to that pile. OK so now take out the autism element then you have a film that is not half as interesting or complex. Taking his brother for a drive, they leave with Susanna to start a legal fight half way across the country.
The Autism is that stands between Charlie, the money which is just the initial motivation that brings these brothers together. Anyone who knows anyone with autism its a daily battle to communicate with someone who is trying to articulate themselves, trapped by any number of physical and mental stumbling blocks. I admire those who are carers, parents and relatives of Autistic people, it by no means an easy life, rewarding at times and that’s reflected in the middle two acts of the film as we see these two very different men start to form a relationship, is it one of brothers are one of carer and patient, maybe even both. What starts as being a burden to Charlie becomes a need as he learns about his past.
When they arrive in Las Vegas, the city of temptation, a moment of weakness that see Charlie who abuses his brothers acute mathematical thinking to count in the Casino. It’s not as Raymond can really consent to this, instead is a perverse coercion that occurs between the able and disabled that does work to a point. Those scenes are thankfully only a few and soon met with guilt and sensitivity, Charlie is growing up as a brother and as a man. Only he can really grow out of both these characters, one who can despise and shame at times, whilst the others we try to understand and care for. The autism brings out the best in Charlie who was before self-centred, now becoming a new improved version of himself, open, sensitive and empathetic to others, especially his brother who he sees as just that first, not the condition that afflicts him.
I think is holding back the tears the first time I watched Rain Man, now with a sense of wonder at the performances and their power. Mostly Hoffman who gave the film it’s tone. Cruise is actually in good form, even as the young attractive actor of the film, paired against the veteran who can act his socks off in-front of him. Of course there’s a few better performances in the go to action guy of the 1990s and last decade who just wont show his age. An image of forever youthfulness, the epitome of Hollywood ideology, the image of eternal youth. Rain Man is not just about these brothers and autism which you can’t hide from, its the 1980’s forgetting the little people who are trampled on, sidelined, whilst the rich and successful keep on making money. Behind the success is where find the humanity and true cost of it all.
I must confess that I first attempted to watch Mad City (1997) a few years ago, gave it a few minutes and gave up on what I thought was a cheap and stupid hostage film. Then a few months ago I shared Ace in the Hole (1951), which gained a response on Twitter. As I’ve been revisiting films I thought it should only fair to check this film out again when it made itself available to me. I couldn’t see the connection myself between the cynical Billy Wilder classic which I now can see is see is the first of its type of films about driven journalists to get their big story and of course claim all the glory for it too.
And so begins another compare and contrast review between the two films that are almost 50 years apart. The basic ideas of both films are the centre of them. We have a gap in-between with Network (1976) that shows how far the media will go for a story, brought bang up-to-date with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which really show the extremes to which a New channel will go to for ratings.
However it’s not about ratings or readership for either Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) or for Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) who we find at the bottom of the barrel, an unknown little paper and a small local TV station who are in 9th place. It’s a more personal dilemma for these two who have reached personal rock-bottoms after a number events that have lead them almost give up on journalism altogether. It’s only by chance that they hit upon a story that gains more attention then they’ve had before, and not for wanting it. What makes them both stand apart is the men who play them. admittedly I think Douglas has this role nailed, the drive and determination come to the actor far easier than the more sensitive Hoffman who is by far the more versatile actor, so equal for different if that makes any sense.
If I leave Wilder’s original to focus on the latter which has more of an impact even nearly 20 years later if this film was to be made again it would be more like Nightcrawler (2014) , instead of waiting for the story to break you break into the story, capture and sell. Brackett is just a very lucky man in a bad situation, after recording a piece of “fluff” or public interest he unwittingly walks into a hostage situation led by recently fired Sam Baily (John Travolta) who wants to get his job back at the museum which is facing closure. So everyone’s going through bad times at the moments, the journalist stuck in a dead-end station, an unemployed security guard and a curator Blythe Danner is trying to keep her museum open. The next three days are the last thing she wants.
I think what makes this film that much darker than the cynical original is the effect that the journalist has on the public and other journalists who’re drawn to this story, well it’s not a story it’s a crime scene or situation that has developed and been moulded into a new-story that for the length of the film just keeps on giving. Brackett knows all the tricks in the book to ensure that everyone outside, even the police ensure he can carry on inside and out. He manipulates the seemingly innocent (to the attention) Sam who want his job back, he has no real plan, even though he carries a blunderbusses and a bag of dynamite. Caught in all of this are a class of children and a fatal mis-shooting that only makes the hostage situation worse. You could say Mad City is a combination of Ace in the Hole and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which really does go all wrong too fast, played more for laughs than the drama that fuels the black comedy bank robbery.
Going back to Ace in the Hole again the attention that’s generated is only limited by the culture, and the technology. People come from all over the country to hear about the guy trapped in the abandoned hole. The advancement of technology has only blown a small town hostage into something far, far bigger than Tatum could imagine but would still have eaten it all up. Of course in both films all of this build up comes with its own consequences, as much as they believe they have been helping to build and maintain all comes crashing down before them. With the promise of a successful future they both grow a conscience, a shred of morality which they have been lacking, the public caught up in all of this hysteria are blameless in all of this.
Mad City is a clearly an update of Ace in the Hole which is much forgotten like this lesser known film with two strong actors. Why is that though? I think because the media moves so fast that the clunky kit that we see has been long lost. Journalists still run around like vultures for the next hot story, the public caught up in it can’t help but sell their story of the money is right. City is one of the lesser known films that you can still watch and not think what were those actors thinking?
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.
A few months ago I was reading a book at work about the depiction of Native Americans in the western genre. There was a chapter that discussed a revisionist western where an Englishman’s captured and assimilated into their culture over the course of the film. Observing how this was dealt with in comparison to others in the past which were treated more as rescue stories, returning the captured white man back to civilised society. Whilst also considering the damage that their time with a native tribe will do to the individual, will they be scarred and damaged as we found this horrifying in The Searchers (1956), or should they be abandoned or shot in Two Rode Together (1961), these are just two examples of a discussion that was going on in the 19th century. The effect of one primitive culture on a more advanced one (as we are lead to believe). Anyway back to this chapter in Invisible Natives which discussed how a native tribe had a more positive effect on John Morgan (Richard Harris) in A Man Called Horse (1970) whose hunting teams ambushed at the beginning, hes dragged away like an animal to the camp.
Our perception of a Native is first reinforced by the classic genre which is already being twisted around. This is not a satire like Little Big Man (1970) when Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who is captured and adopted as one of their own, able to come back and forth. This is more about changing our view of a section of people from the inside out, not mocking the other, the white American. Or in this case the white Englishman who travelled the America to hunt new game. With no intention of being captured, living amongst the Sioux nation for at least a year, during a time when the westward expansion was not as big a threat as it would be by the end of the century when they were fighting for the freedom before being penned into a reservation far from their own lands. A Man Called Horse explores the possibility of that what if a white man was to enter into this world, away from his aristocratic trapping to live amongst “savages” to learn how to survive before a possible escape.
Much like Man in the Wilderness (1971) there is very little dialogue, well dialogue we can understand when we are with the Sioux which is pretty much all the time. The difference with Wilderness and Horse is we have a larger white cast in the more audience friendly Wilderness film which was set even earlier in time. There is more of an offbeat tone, as it sees a man left behind (once again Harris) who is left to die, learning to survive much like the Natives he lives in fear of for a time, learning to respect them by the films end. Coming back to Horse there is more of an open view to the other that takes in one of our own who becomes an other over the course of the film.
It’s a slow transformation that begins as an embarrassment, fighting the enemy to escape, giving into survive, to understand to make plans. That’s before life happens for Morgan who meets another captive Batise (Jean Gascon), a Frenchman who has been among them for 5 years. For Morgan he now has two enemies, one national rivalry back home, who he can talk to, the only one who understands him at first. They form an uneasy relationship, facing as allies and form of communication. They both want to leave but when and how, they have a plan which is later scuppered by unfolding events.
The depiction of the Sioux is more impartial, more honest, we get all the feather head-dresses but only when necessary, part of their visual language which the audience understands. It’s so much more through a number of montages and not having the broken English we get in most westerns. Even Dame Judith Anderson doesn’t utter a word of English, having taken the time to learn her lines in the native language. There is a levee lot respect to the culture you rarely get today. You could say that this was Dances with Wolves (1990) which has its problems with the depiction of the enemy to appear more menacing for effect.
We only see two other white men, who are both killed in the ambush, the only enemy are warring tribes, the impending danger of the white man is far away for now. This allows us to focus on the Sioux and nothing else, their culture, we have to really focus to understand what is going on and to be fair that’s not hard as they have the same problems as the civilised society. The threat of danger, respecting the dead, the pecking order of the men and love which comes out of nowhere for Morgan who was planning to get out. Allowing himself to be subjected to the Vow, which is one of the most playful things I have seen on film for an audience to stomach in main-stream film. Even in the seventies, I was struggling to figure out how this painful feat was re-enacted. A ritual that the film even states was outlawed in the 1880’s, brought back to life for this film.
I am left wanting more now, knowing there was a sequel The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976), the fact that Morgan wanted to leave now becomes an important member of their society, leads them to safer ground. We are left guessing as to where he went, did he stay with them, or does he leave. Well I know where he begins in the sequel which doesn’t help, aghhhh I just want to find out how his journey ends, how he’s been changed by his experiences, away from civilised society. Even Morgan agrees men all want the same, can’t get better than that for a message from a film that focuses on the natural enemy of the westerner.
- A Man Called Horse, Elliot Silverstein, 1970 (www.nativeamerican.co.uk)
- A Man Called Horse (1970) & The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) (every70smovie.blogspot.co.uk)
- A Man Called Horse (eriklerouge.blogspot.co.uk)
- A Man Called Horse (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
One of a few films recommended to me during my final year at art-school by Professor Neil Campbell who opened my mind more to the western genre. Little Big Man (1970) was indeed a long and rewarding wait to finally catch this revisionist western that on the face of it can mock the genre. As we follow the life of the oldest and last Indian fighter who retells his life very much in the style that is later used by Forrest Gump (1995) without all the schmaltz of the big events of the last few decades and cgi to slip in the main character. Instead it’s a look back at both the western genre and the larger and more overlooked near genocide of the Native American as mentioned by the young interviewer of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who comically is 122 years old, impossible really, but allows another generation become aware of its countries overlooked and shameful past.
We don’t linger on the nasty G word for too long, heading straight to the myths stereotypes of the Indian, as we see a white settlement raided, leaving only Jack and his sister hiding in a burnt out wagon, who are later taken away by a Cheyenne back to his camp. With well over half a decade of images of what could possibly happen our misconceptions are soon wiped clear, twisted on the head and thrown out.
This is not your average western of the last two decades when the Indian would capture, rape and kill their prisoners. Instead looking beyond the cliché to something more honest with humour as to what could possibly happen (stretched a bit for effect) as one man is assimilated into Cheyenne life, given the name Little Big Man. Not ignoring one of the ideas employed by the U.S. government to solve the “Indian Problem” The effect the Cheyenne’s have on Jack is dramatic as he goes onto adopt various lives throughout 1800’s America and the West. Paying homage in part to the genre that has given us so many images from the gunfighter to the medicine peddler and town drunk.
Hoffman is an interesting choice for the lead role, a small in height and not the most macho of heroes yet holds your attention as an average guy who can shout above it all. The kind that as we see gets left behind but makes the best of it. Taking on the multiple persona’s of the West we see him try and fail to live as a white man, becoming a failure in the American world, becoming only a true human being as an adopted Cheyenne. Something that is constantly mentioned among them, especially Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) who speaks of the white men as not equal to any Indian, even African American’s are not worthy of the title. It is those who live out on the plains who are allowed to be called human. As if a right of passage, living up to a standard, a way of life they will never truly share. A reflection of the western societies urge to westernise everyone else they came into contact with. For once the Indian seems to have the moral high-ground, his perspective comes first.
Whereas the white-man taking the form of General George Armstrong Custer (Richard Mulligan) is once again a bigoted glory hunter who is deaf to anyone else’s views. Head strong and determine to solve the “Indian Problem” hoping to one day live in the White house. We meet the doomed general a few times, at first a towering figure who arrives out of the pages of glory to become power mad. First sending Jack and his then wife Olga (Kelly Jean Peters) west, back into the untamed country, leading us into a back and forth world for Jack as he lives amongst the Cheyenne and the whites. It’s only after a raid that he is a part of as a Mule Skinner does he truly see the barbaric nature of the U.S. cavalry who slain not just the men but the women and children with little regard for their orders. Un able to understand how his own kind, kill another that he has been raised by, conflicting emotions boil inside him. White by birth, yet Cheyenne by nature, relying on either to survive as we learn.
Whilst being a comedy there are plenty of scenes that shake you up, leaving you in no doubt which side this film is on, after taking up with 4 wives do we see how the Cheyenne live on a reservation, before being “rubbed out” by the Army that is hard to watch, we don’t see white against Indian, it’s not a fair fight, just a slaughter of the innocent as they run for cover. Jack is seems to be the only one who can see history before him whilst it unfolds, unable to do much about it, a bystander almost in a nightmare.
Little Big Man flips the myth of conquest on its head to show the audience what it’s been overlooking, with all the settlers moving west, the gold rush, the cattle barons and the railroad, there was a great cost that was overlooked, a cost of human lives which can be overlooked as an obstacle. It doesn’t preach to us what has happened, the damage has been done politically and historically. Maybe in film the past can be redressed, hoping to rewrite that history to fill in the gaps that are usually covered over by the gunfighters and landowners. Adding another rich layer to a genre that celebrates a countries history which has become a myth that has become the facts we know today. For a time we are made to think about the others who are usually left out on the sidelines of history. If it wasn’t for Chief Dan George’s performance that rises beyond the stereotypical Indian chief to a thoughtful and wise man who can gives another viewpoint to history. There’s a sense of guilt that builds up as we see all the death and destruction, a race that has been brought to it’s knees, with all the excitement we see in the developed west we cannot forget the cost that is made both on-screen and in history.
- Little Big Man (www.nativeamerican.co.uk)
- How the West Was Really Won — LITTLE BIG MAN 1970 (whirlwindfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) And the Strangeness of the Whiteman (arcticshores.blogspot.co.uk)
- Little Big Man (1970) Hoffman recounts a 121 yr life (lovethoseclassicmovies.blogspot.co.uk)
- Little Big Man (NGP, 1970) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
I’ve known about this classic film since my conversation with Professor Neil Campbell during my final year at art school, that marked a real turn in the western genre. I never gave wanting to see this film, know that it placed a cowboy in modern-day New York. Also known as the first X-rated film to win the best Picture Oscar. One that is far different in tone and style than any of the past winners to the point of film making. Midnight Cowboy (1969) is that film.
I knew the basic outline of the film a cowboy moves up north to New York, short on cash, taking on what he only knows how – prostitution. A desperate act of a man, who should have been able to offer so much more. Not the most appealing of films on the face of it.
It’s the face of Jon Voight whose innocence to the path ahead of him is perfect. A Texan born and bred we see decides to leave all he knows for a better life thousands of miles away in New York. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Until through the first of many visceral montages we learn more of his past, his decisions and the life he has chosen to leave behind. It’s all quite melancholic, and modern, a young man coming from a broken family, brought up by his grandmother who cared little more than his mother did before her. We have a wide-eyed and bushy tail young man ready to explore the big bad world. Fascinated by all that the open road had to offer him, as it passes by on the open road courtesy of a coach. He meets all sorts of people, whilst we learn more of him as he listens to his only real companion, a radio that changes as he moves through the states.
On his arrival in the big city, the big man knows what he wants, sex and plenty of it. A task that back home seemed so much easier to achieve, until he meets the women that are hard-nosed independent women who are far wiser to the advances of a country man. On getting his first potential customer he goes about the transaction all wrong. A learning curve that he is just starting to go on and only begins to understand at the end of the film.
It’s not until he meets ratty looking Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) that the possibility of the cowboy reaching his dream. All this is to fall through into another flashback, a path of religion that he doesn’t want to engage with. Ratso or Ricco is not just a passing character in Joe Buck’s (Voight) time in New York. He becomes his only friend who helps and reveals to him the truths of life that he has been unaware of. The innocent cowboy is not ready just yet to accept this.
The macho image of the Cowboy, as personified by John Wayne over the last 30 years of film, has been adopted by the gay community, thus attracting the wrong kind of clientelle. Something that he had not anticipated. He perseveres and carries on, in hoping to be a prostitute, taking on different angles, unaware of to how to really treat women in this part of the country.
It’s after the two friends who have lived in a condemned building are invited to an arty party where Buck’s luck changes, surrounded by people who accepted him as someone who was different, a larger than life figure who was confident enough to be him self in terms of self-expression. The height of the art world culture, can be found within this psychedelic sequence that sees them almost worshiped and adored. Buck finally has a client who falls for his country charm.
Whilst all through this we see the decline of Ratso who we see having temperatures into the loss use of his legs. It’s a dramatic change in tone for the film, from self-preservation and finding money, Buck changes his priorities to that of his very ill friend, a figure in his life who had faith in him wanting him to succeed after first taking advantage. Everything he has achieved would not be possible were it not due to Ratso’s friendship, all else falls away to save this man.
It’s a shock to the genre, a massive wake up call that taste have changed in the audience who first grew up with cowboys and Indians. Wanting sex and violence more than the simplistic tales of the wild west. We have a wide-eyed figure who still believes in that way of life, and its language. He admits he wasn’t a cowboy, more a studd, waking up slowly to the modern world, growing up into manhood and the present day. At it’s time of release Midnight Cowboy was an innovative film, shaking up the genre into something new, to the form it is in today. An awareness of the passage of time and tastes. Two opposites meet, the optimistic and pessimistic in life collide, with all their differences which is the heart of the film. For me it’s the montages that distort the passage of time, to create a possible direction of the film, as if parts of the film were discarded and recycled into a new form for the film. It’s a film not to be missed in short.