Last year I wrote an unused Film Talk which I would like to share with you. A more in-depth look at a comic book hero – that draws closely to the Western genre. It’s a continuation of my exploration of the genre that my practice explores. Logan (2017) is one if the rare comic book films that I’ll actually sit down at watch. Partly because I grew up watching the TV show as a child. Also the film, much like Deadpool (2016 & 18) is far darker than the lighter MCU that has become so popular over the last decade. It’s easy to draw comparisons between the two genres, they touch at many points, Logan or Wolverine is a character that requires further examination.
Tonight I’d like to explore and share a passion of mine, the Western. Logan (2017), which can be read as a Western. Taking my original review of the film as a starting point I have explored and expanded by research to find richer connections to the film. I’ll be focusing on one aspect of the genre – the gunfighter. Looking a few key films – The Gunfighter (1950), Shane (1953) and Unforgiven (1992). Showing clips together with comparisons to Logan.
Historically gunfighter’s such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Younger gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch first reach notoriety due to the cheaply and mass-produced dime novel that first created the characters and situations that produced the folk-law, which Hollywood has used as source material since the birth of film.
The Gunfighter is in fact a 20th century creation post WWII taking two forms. “…in which professionalism in the arts of violence is the hero’s defining characteristic. These new takes on the Western were shaped by the internal logic of genre development, which fostered a certain kind of stylization of the Western and its hero and by the pressures and anxieties of the post-war/Cold War transition…The consonance between the formal character of the gunfighter Western and its ideological content is a genuinely poetic achievement. It gave the gunfighter films ideological and cinematic resonance and made heroic style of the gunfighter an important symbol of right and heroic actions for filmmakers, the public, and the nation’s political leadership.”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 379-80
Using this thinking it’s easy to translate the loner gunfighter figure to the comic book universe – Wolverine or Logan who we’ve seen cinematically struggle with his position and circumstances as a mutant in the X-Men universe. Born in the 19th with his natural mutations – claws and healing are transformed in the 20th century by a Dr. Rice. His bony claws becomes Adamantinium a fictional metal that in turn creates the killing machine who has already learned to block out his violent past, the 20th century has transformed into a living Winchester rifle or Colt gun.
The film depiction of Wolverine has been seen on-screen and portrayed by Hugh Jackman since X-Men (2000) a character that has become a favourite among fans, relatable in terms of him being an outsider, unable to fit in with society or even those who he lives with – the X-Men. So almost 20 years later his story has now come full circle and has come to it’s natural end for both actor and character in Logan.
Set in the year 2029, we have avoided the apocalyptic future as depicted in Days of Futures Past (2014) where we last saw Logan. We find Logan is driving a limo under his birth name of James Howlett, he’s living and nursing his old mentor Charles Xavier who has a dementia which is only amplified with his mutant abilities; making an episode of confusion more devastating thanks to his telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which we see twice in the film. They are living over the border in Mexico, a common location in the Western for outlaws and gunfighter’s to hide out and escape the law. They are living with an albino – Caliban (Stephen Merchant) who we learn is a human sat-nav. Logan is in rough shape, he struggles to keep up with every passing battle, be it with humans or mutants. His time is slowly up, the ability to heal is starting to fail him.
Turning to the history of the gunfighter in the genre, we first see one depicted in
The Gunfighter. Played by Gregory Peck, Johnny Ringo is an obscure gunfighter found by the films writer Andre DeToth, who found him in Eugene Cunningham’s Triggernometry; A Gallery of Gunfighters (1934). There is little known about this outlaw apart from
“… a few vicious murders, a reputation for heavy drinking, and a couple of intriguing mysteries. He was said to have had a cultured manner (evidenced by an ability to quote Shakespeare) and to have been the scion of an aristocratic southern family ruined in the Civil War. He also died mysteriously, murdered, murdered by someone who gave him no chance to draw, and his draw, and his reputation was such that chief suspect bragged that he has done it.”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, – Pg. 383
This first set of clip’s comes from the beginning of The Gunfighter, Ringo’s played by arrives in a town saloon where he wants to find an old lover and mother to his son. He’s instantly recognised and comes with a built-in unwanted celebrity status. He just wants to keep a low profile, meet his kid and start his life over. And then we see Logan has stopped to buy some medication for Xavier, before meeting Pierce
We can see that Logan is still plagued by a fading celebrity status and hero-worship; Pierce another mutant with a robotic arm has done his research on him and is in awe of him.
The film is set in a future where it’s thought that no more Mutants have been born, so the genes are dying out, they are a dying race. Much like the gunfighter’s who are either being killed off or have been caught by the law that has been spreading West through the country. The gunfighter has been outmoded.
“The gunfighter enters the narrative already knowing that the Wild West’s promise of fame and power (or of redemption) is an illusion; that the vision of the Frontier as limitless in its possibilities for the personal and social perfection is a mirage; and that he himself has been rendered isolated and vulnerable by the very things that have made him victorious in the past”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 390
We can see that Logan is very much like Ringo, there’s a short scene where he’s cleaning pus from off his claw, they aren’t functioning as well as they used to.
I mentioned earlier the film is set in a time of no new mutants, this is before the introduction of Laura, a genetically engineered child, born in the lab – by Transigen – a pharmaceutical company who have raised Laura and others for the purposes of developing and passing on the mutant genes to the wider population. She acts as a baton passing in the universe to carry on the Wolverine role. Logan has a hard time accepting their relationship. Laura being younger is naturally far stronger, agile and full of rage like her father has.
She brings her a number of X-Men comics, a self referential tool that connect us to the roots of the wider marvel universe and the creation of Western legend. The superhero equivalent of the dime novel, which I’ll touch on later.
About half way through the film Logan, Laura and Xavier are on the run from Transigen. They are in a hotel room, a classic passing place in the Western. Where by chance (or directors choice) to find Shane is on TV. It’s commented on a few times during those short scenes, given emphasis and lines even raised at the end of the film.
To see how Shane operates in Logan we need to discuss the code that a gunfighter and by extension Logan has tried to live by. For Shane (Alan Ladd) he has chosen to live by this code and so has his counterpart Wilson (Jack Palance) at the final showdown
“The exchange between Shane and Wilson is formal and stylized, and both men appear conscious that they are going through a familiar, predictable, even trite, but nonetheless essential, ritual.”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 399
Firstly they both respect each other as gunfighter’s, giving each other proper chance, not much time but the chance to draw their guns before attempting to kill each other. The would only do so facing each other. As Westerns have taught us, it’s frowned upon to shoot in the back, or whilst the others unarmed. Lastly they only fight with just cause, Shane has no personal debt to take up Wilson, it take an insult to finally goad him into action. Then Shane can kill him, freeing the homesteaders and farmers to live in peace and not fear Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his men. Logan has attempted to live by a code, one instilled by his mentor Xavier who wanted to fight when only necessary and to pick your fights wisely.
Returning to the X-Men comics, which are the universes dime novels. Superheroes are living in the same era as the publication, much like Buffalo Bill, although he worked with the writers to build and establish his own legend that formed the myth of the West.
“…in a Ned Buntline dime novel published in 1869 and stage melodrama that premiered in 1871. [William] Cody has already acquired a word of mouth reputation as an excellent scout and hunting guiding, but after 1869 his newly acquired dime-novel celebrity made his name familiar to a national audience while linking it with spectacular and utterly fictitious adventures”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin Pg. 69
The X-Men comics contain a myth that Laura buys into, believing that the coordinates in one of the issues are real for a place called Eden in North Dakota. Borrowing directly from that universe to inform the film. Logan tries to explain to the young girl out the truth behind these comics.
The dime novel writer does play a minor role in the screen Western, usually sitting on the side-lines of the films events. Talking to the gunfighter and others in between the shoot-outs. Usually a small guy with glasses and would never carries a gun, his weapon of choice is his pen, and the words he writes. A strong example of writer can be found in Unforgiven, is W.W. Beauchamp played by Saul Rubinek. We see him taking notes from Little Bill Daggett – Gene Hackman of how fact and fiction of an event differ. He has to wait for the troubled gunfighter William Munny – Clint Eastwood the personification of the genre.
These next clips see Beauchamp learning the truth about English Bob (Richard Harris) whose in jail after refusing to handover his guns. Whilst in Logan, the reality of the comic books being demystified to Laura
Munny is much like Logan in that they have tried to give up that part of their life to function as a family man. Logan is still plagued by the effect of the violence he has inflicted on others. Munny can’t really remember as he was usually drunk at the time of his killings. Whilst Logan tries to repress those memories and the emotions connected to them. Here he is confronted with a blurred mythologised version of his own life story. When Munny is faced with his first killing in years he is very rusty and not engaged in the act of killing from the outset.
“A shot of Munny with the barrel in the foreground and foreshadows his eventual decision to take decisive and deadly action…Ned pleads that he cannot shoot the prone boy and Munny stretches towards the front of the frame and grabs the gun…he has crossed the line into the world of violence.”
Film as Genre – John Sanders – Pg. 64
The tired gunfighter is mirrored in the two fights between Logan and 23 – the genetically engineered mutant – based on Logan’s DNA, a far superior, younger, stronger version of the aging Logan who we see struggling to keep up, regenerate and fight. Lets see both fights in these clips.
The classic Western went out of it’s way to mythologise the West, it’s history and sell it to the audience. The modern Revisionist Westerns such as Unforgiven and Logan wanted to demystify that myth, however by the close of Logan it deviates from the to reinforces it’s own myth. The comic books are based more on reality than Logan gives them credit. The printed legend has become fact.
Lastly I’d like to take a look at the bloody fight between Logan and 23 on the North Dakota and Canadian border. Logan has taken a full dose of a drug that increases his performance, he’s pumped up with man-made adrenaline. It works to a point, his own fragility soon returns, nature has won out ultimately. Again looking at Unforgiven, Munny switches from old family man to bloody thirsty killer.
“He’s back in the mode of mayhem. And he doesn’t care. He’s his old self again, at least for the moment. He doesn’t miss a beat while he loads his rifle and talks to the journalist. Before, he’s been very rusty, having trouble getting on his horse, he wasn’t shooting very well. He wasn’t nailing people with the first shot. Now, when he goes on this suicidal mission, he’s all machine. He not only coldly murders Daggett at point-blank range but he shoots some bystanders with no more compunction than someone swatting a fly.”
Eastwood – Interview
Ride, Boldly Ride – Mary Lea Bandy & Kevin Stoehr – Pg 264
It takes a killing of his friend to cross that line into his violent past. For Logan it’s the survival of a younger generation and a paternal instinct towards Laura. Both men are driven by primal and personal urges.
With every gunfight there are deaths, but rarely the hero, Logan is buried and read over by Laura, reciting a Shane’s goodbye speech to Joey. It’s a little broken but the message remains in tact; that leading a violent life can only lead to a lonely life, one away from society and those you love.
Logan heavily relies on rich lineage of cinematic and printed history to say goodbye to one of the most iconic Marvel characters – Wolverine. Through the films and comic books we have seen a tortured man, who has generated an aura of celebrity status in some circles. Much like the Wild West gunfighter whose skill with a gun raises him to a position of awe and wonderment – a celebrity which comes at a great cost
“The existence of his profession is in itself an implicitly hard-boiled commentary on the nature of American society; and the psychic isolation his profession begets gives the gunfighter the alienated perspective he needs to articulate such a critique: What sort of society is it in which those who have money can hire a killer? And what kind of people are we, that our strong men find such work to their liking? But more important than his critical function is the gunfighters embodiment of the central paradox of America’s self image in an era of Cold War “subversion,” and the thermonuclear balance of terror; our sense of being at once supremely powerful and utterly vulnerable, politically dominant and yet helpless to shape the course of critical events.”
Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin – Pg 383
A few months ago I caught Jackie (2016) which for a prolonged scene/montage we saw Jacqueline Kennedy beginning to grieve, preparing for her late husbands funeral. Playing throughout the scene and on the soundtrack is the stage version of Camelot as performed by Richard Burton. We learn later on that JFK saw himself as Camelot, clearly inspiration for him politically and ideology. The track – Camelot stayed with me for sometime after I came out of the cinema. I had to download it to satisfy the ear-worm that was now taking up residence in my head. It’s been about 6 months since I saw both the film and first listened again to the track. It’s been on a number of times in the car. Listening to the track out of context of the musical which I knew still nothing about. I find myself singing along to the track, picking up odd lines, still not ready to take it to karaoke yet – I will be one day. Listening to the lyrics I began to understand part of what the world that Richard Burton was trying to paint to his Guenevere, as if he was selling her his form of paradise. The climate in the kingdom of Camelot is ideal throughout the year. It’s all in decree by the king himself, making sure its all orderly, very British, allowing us to get one with the more important things – like afternoon tea.
Translating this back to the later film I have already got a better understanding of the film and the short-lived presidency of JFK, who dreamed of a utopian new America, which a large number bought into during the cold war, that’s ignoring his many critics who would rather him be out off office. Still that leads into the realm of conspiracies which I’m not going into/entertain. Anyway moving away from the more recent film connection, I first attempted to watch this musical over a year ago. It didn’t go well if I’m honest, it lasted less than 5 minutes before I gave up. The idea of Richard Harris singing it didn’t sit with me beyond the description in the listings. Then somewhere down the line I saw Paint Your Wagon (1969) where again I found actors who aren’t really suited to this world of the all singing and dancing numbers. But I stayed with it due to my curiosity for the film. Both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood would never have claimed to be singers. They were passable with a lot of training to put it politely, they were having a ball making the film. The much can be said for Camelot, a cast that is not really known for their singing abilities.
I think this time around with Camelot (1967), with the later film and the curiosity again I actually told myself to sit through it, plus wanting to see Camelot and sing along to the number above. It’s not really a song that on the surface is too hard to sing (not suggesting training went into the performance) however it has that William Shatner sound of talking the words which he aced with his rendition of Rocket Man. Could this be a speaking musical – if such a term exists? The main casting of this film is rather unusual yet I stuck with it. I found Harris to be a decent King Arthur without chewing up the set. Vanessa Redgrave‘s Guenevere wasn’t such as easy fit, more suited to drama’s I guess this was a finding her style role, seeing if she could, which to a certain extent she does. The musical numbers aren’t the grandest songs in musical history.
I did find myself still drawn to the Jackie connection, how did the Kennedy’s connect to the musical? For me it was the idea of uniting all the counties, each fighting among themselves. Arthur decides to unite the fighting knights to fight for right. Inviting all the knights of the realm/country to join him, lay down their arms and join him around the famous round table. One that I saw a recreation in Winchester a few years ago, hanging up and looking like a precursor to a dart board. Flyers go out across the country and before too long we see men riding in full armour towards the kingdom. Thats not before one of the flyers reaches France into the hands of Lancelot Du Lac (Franco Nero) yes a french knight played by an Italian whose not even trying to do the accent, probably because it would have sounded worse. I for one was constantly thinking about him dragging a coffin through a town in Django (1966). He just was poorly cast for a Frenchmen, probably seen as way to boost his international profile Hollywood. Better working with Sergio Corbucci, the role would have been better served by Omar Sharif in terms of accent – maybe. However Nero did bring an air of mystery, the practically unknown to everyone until Arthur remembers what Merlin Laurence Naismith predicted that he would sit with him around a table (not knowing it was round). This is naughty love interest for Guenevere that soon takes hold as she starts to pit others against him in hopes of driving him away or to prove to herself if he’s worthy of her affections, that were too quickly won by Arthur and his selling of paradise.
It’s this idea of paradise that he wants to spread across the country, the start of modern Britain, lawmakers and government not just by one monarch which is essentially a dictatorship without the advisors. Bringing all these knights likes Senators of the 50 states of America together in Washington for greater good than they’d been doing before obviously inspired. Was JFK essentially dreaming of a better world that was now entering the 2nd decade of the Cold War. He oversaw the Cuban missile crisis, encouraged the space programme among other things. Now the use of Camelot in Jackie makes a lot more sense, enriching the film in terms of the relationship that’s now being grieved for. It’s a reminder of what’s essentially a reminder, a memento of stage production, and inspiration for a man. I come away with all of this after a film that is definitely watchable, lots if a fun and songs you don’t really need to have a great voice to have fun with.
The second in my ongoing series if Film Talks I’m running at the Rothley Community Library. I decided to discuss two films this time A Kind of Loving (1962) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) both directed by John Schlesinger. Below are the notes from the night.
Tonight I’ll be taking a look at one of last months recommendations – A Kind of Loving (1962), which I noticed was directed by John Schlesinger who went onto make Midnight Cowboy (1969). I’ll start by sharing what makes a Kitchen sink drama or has otherwise been known as a British New Wave or Social Realism. Before moving onto look at A Kind of Loving and drawing comparisons with Midnight Cowboy.
So what is a Kitchen Sink Drama? I think you have to look at Britain socially first, in order to inform these films. I turned to The Social Structure of Modern Britain – E.A. Johns (1965); which is dated by today’s standards, but nonetheless allowed me to see how society was perceived at the time of writing. I first focused on the family,
“…the view currently held by many eminent writers is that the family has been stripped of the functions which are essential to its cohesion, and that parents have abnegated their responsibilities in favour of the government-run organs of the Welfare state.”
These essential functions of the family are :
- Provision of a home
- Production and rearing of children
- Stable satisfaction of sex need
R.M. MacIver – Macmillan 1957
Johns continued on the family by quoting W.J.H Sprott who argued that
“…The family, under Western cultural conditions has shrunk functionally” and that the social services are basically “anti-family” in that they cater almost exclusively for the individual rather than the family as a whole. This view is supported up to a point by M.Penelope Hall when she quotes the article on Social Policy and the Family…This document remarks that the family has until recently, been given only a minor place in social policy, “and over-all effect has been to lower status of the family in the national life”. Day nurseries and school meals, for example encourage a mother to go to work, but do not encourage her to create a home for her children”
There’s an improvement in opportunities for young mothers wanting to be independent, which would have a knock on effect. Whilst also looking at increased leisure time available in modern Britain.
“…the increasing adoption of the 5-day working week and introduction of labour-saving devices in the home both mean that families have more leisure time. The characteristically democratic structure of most modern families mean that husbands and wives spend more of this time together.”
I also looked at the position of women in the 60’s, first looking at the jobs they have
Married women stats
25-34 years – 2/3 are employed
35-44 years – ¾ are employed
45-54 – 2/3 are employed.
Types of work include
- distribution – insurance – banking – catering – laundries (industry jobs)
- Hairdressing – domestic service – nursing (tertiary jobs)
- Clerks – typists – shop assistance (“white-blouse brigade”)
These statistics only account for married women in employment. What about when the married couple moves away from the family home into the newly built housing estates?
“Another factor…is that when families make the sudden transition from an old-established neighbourhood with a strong social life to a virgin housing estate, they may experience a good deal of loneliness, at least initially. The wives, in particular. may miss the gossip and chatter of the streets, and see a substitute in the companionship of the office or factory”
Lastly looking at marriage and divorce, which was made more accessible, however divorce was only granted under certain conditions. This passage still carries some weight today regarding the failure of marriages.
“I think the most significant element, however, is the egalitarianism which characterizes the relationship between married partners today, by contrast with the patriarchal authoritarianism which was accepted as the normal pattern in the nineteenth century…The marriage a girl enters today has far more stresses than her grandmother’s. A partnership needs much more forbearance than the situation which the wife just used to accept the idea of doing what she was told.”
It does however acknowledge that number of younger couples getting married, and why. The most obvious is the reason why our main characters Vic and Ingrid in A Kind of Loving.
“In 1960, nearly 62,000 extra-maritally conceived children were born to women married for less than 8 months (usually 5 or 6). Translated into proportion of all marriages this means that one in five brides was pregnant, and it is well established that the shot-gun marriage is more likely to break down.”
Johns doesn’t mention the introduction pill was made available with slowly increased access to it.
“At first it was only prescribed to married women – most older women who had already had children and wanted no more…In the past most women had to married at an early age, being expected to give up their job and become a full-time housewife and mother wile their husband went out to work. If a woman wanted to follow a career she had to give up thoughts of marriage. Now, married could, if they chose, plan a career, and rigid gender based division of roles began to change. It was the beginning of both a social and sexual revolution, and there was much talk of the ‘permissive society’ and ‘free love’”
Life in the 1960s – Mike Brown Pg. 9
So we have some social context around the Kitchen Sink Drama we know that they are focused on working class issues. If you’ve ever seen one you’ll notice they are mostly in Northern locations complete with the rich accents. They are devoid of special effects, the gloss that you get over in Hollywood or Europe lets take a closer look at the key directors of the movement. The subjects they covered were.
Now lets take a quick look at the key directors of the movement.
Then we have John Schlesinger who began his career as an actor in his early twenties before making his directorial debut with a 30-minute documentary about Waterloo station – Terminus. A year later he made his feature film debut with A Kind of Loving, which saw him work with producer Joseph Janni for the first of 6 films together. It’s also the first starring role for Alan Bates.
The film follows a young man Vic (Alan Bates) who falls for Ingrid (June Ritchie), which starts off like a school romance, the passing of notes, the boys fighting, and the social dances. That’s all until Ingrid falls pregnant after they both loose their virginity. This is when the dream of a carefree romance starts to fall away opening them up to married life. In the first few weeks of marriage they are living at her home with her mother played by Thora Hird. Who makes life difficult for them under her roof. It’s her way or the highway, and they can’t really afford to leave just yet. The classic mother-in-law type brings reality crashing down for them. She’s hardly in the film but makes a strong impression on Vic who until recently was free to come and go as he pleased, now assuming the role of the husband. I’d like to show you the portion of the film (stills below) when the school romance fades away as they become adults.
In part two coming I draw comparisons with John Schlesinger’s last film of the decade – Midnight Cowboy.
Coming into this film I was bringing a lot of expectation. After reading about Jeremiah Johnson (1972) in a few books I thought I had a pretty good idea of how this film would look, feel and be. I think I set my expectations a little too high, my idea of what the film is, is completely different. Also because I haven’t been able to find it until now (neither on TV or DVD) I saw it as a more sought-after film, one that if you don’t see it you’re missing something special, which is in a way I suppose. The less accessible a film is the more you look forward to seeing it. Like friends that rarely see, you make the most of the time you have together. Jeremiah Johnson and I are not quite on those terms yet.
Another reason I wanted to see this film is part of my understanding of the Native American Western, how the sub-genre developed. I was lead to believe that Robert Redford‘s titular character would become a revered other of the Crow nation in the mountains, shedding his white civilisation past to become to the other which we have seen so many times feared in the genre. I kept thinking more about Man in the Wilderness (1971) which saw Richard Harris‘s character comes closer to reaching that transformation. His was however not out of choice, more survival. Learning the way of the mountain Natives who we see as almost god-like, they have done nothing to be feared. The built-in cliché that they are dangerous savages is not really mentioned. Both films are however set before the Civil War when most Westerns take place or there-after. Western society is still forming, still moving westward and yet to truly tackle the “Indian Problem” that we see in so many other films.
So I’ve already established my initial thoughts, the early comparison to probably a better film, what’s it all about. Staying with the idea it’s about the white man becoming the other, the one whose feared, which I believe is a reading that is nonsense to an extent. He never truly crosses over from one culture to another like Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who rejects all that is white about him. Johnson is one of the early mountain-men as we meet a few others. The type whose found in other westerns whose respected for his knowledge of the natives, much older than those settlers making their way West. People who come with dangerous experience, if you cross them they could leave you on your own to defend yourself. Some become scouts for the Army as they built new forts. These men cannot function in society, but enable it to grow outside the boundaries we already find it. Much like the gunfighter, the danger they bring with them leaves them unable to stay in one place for too long. Out in the mountains they are able to live an acceptable life-style, one with nature you could say.
I’m still trying to pin down what this film is about, maybe an escape from what was going on in America at the time. It was the beginning of a new age of directorial freedom which I admire, enjoying the work of those who are now respected names. But that would be going of on a tangent. In westerns we rarely focus on the mountain man, we see riders traveling through, hiding out or fighting Native American’s who have a clear advantage over the white men. Here is a chance to understand the mountain man, what drives him. We first meet Johnson as a soldier returning to civilian life in a 19th century Catamaran that delivers him to the outskirts of civilisation, he’s on the cusp of the unknown. Feeling his doesn’t below down with the frontiersman and settler he leaves them all behind. Now here’s where my expectations start to get dashed. Thinking that this film was going to be mostly absent of dialogue, I found it more of a 50/50 split really, which I still have to accept after what I had previously read. Johnson is trying to catch fish, all with his bare hands, grabbing the fish in the water. Not having any tools, a rare moment of comedy in this otherwise dramatic Western. Its here we meet for the first time Paints His Shirt Red (Joaquín Martínez) whose the man that Johnson wants to be, to be able to live in the mountain, surrounded by prizes from his many hunts in the mountains.
Things become more complicated when he comes across a homesteader (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her son (Josh Albee) who he later adopts and renames Caleb. A silent child who was more than likely trumatised by the death of his father. Leaving his mother mentally unstable, left to wander the mountains. A victim left alive from the Natives who are seen off-screen to be. They still victims of the cliche, or are they just defending themselves. This is quite problematic for me as the 1970’s is a decade of revisionism of the genre with films such as Little Big Man (1970), the Man Called Horse films that shows them in a fresh light. There’s still a savagery about these people, mostly the Crow who are seen by other mountain men such as Bear Claw (Will Geer) and Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch) who both admire and fear those who have lived there for centuries. Of course fighting with other Nations. It is the invasion of the white man in the mountain that is causing the conflict.
I cannot ignore the two mountain men Bear Claw and Del Gue who both help form the legend that becomes Jeremiah Johnson over the course of the film. Bear Claw is an almost God-like figure who has lived in the mountains for all his adult life. He assumes the role of the teacher to Johnson teaching all he needs to know to survive. Where as Del Gue is living the dream of the mountain man, he respects and fears the Natives. First meeting him bald, not wanting to be scalped – a common form of torture carried out by Native American’s, all part of the cliche that has been built up over the time. We next meet him with a full head of hair, and some of the best lines of the film, comparing hair to God’s greatest sculptures.
“I ain’t never seen ’em, but my common sense tells me the Andes is foothills, and the Alps is for children to climb! Keep good care of your hair! These here is God’s finest scupturings! And there ain’t no laws for the brave ones! And there ain’t no asylums for the crazy ones! And there ain’t no churches, except for this right here! And there ain’t no priests excepting the birds. By God, I are a mountain man, and I’ll live ’til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I’ll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent…”
He sums up what it means to be a mountain man, a free-spirit, the closest a white-man who wants to live the life of a Native American, to be with nature. These are men who want to live in the rawness of nature, rejecting civilsation for all that is primal, a part from a gun and a knife or two. It’s not an easy life as Johnson discovers, recreating the massacre scene from The Searchers (1956) that we play out in our minds. The genre has grown up to all these harsher images. He becomes a far more dangerous Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who kills his enemy with little thought, but plenty of skill. When tired he shockingly sleeps among his victims. Its all or nothing.
I come away from the film still conflicted after the image of the film I built up in my mind has become something else – the actual film. Is is pro-Native American or not is my real question. It’s not even revisionist really. It’s another aspect of the genre that is explored in more detail, the life of the mountain man that serve little purpose in the arc of the western as whole, we hardly see them until now.
I decided to watch this on the basis that Richard Harris as odd as the actor may sound next to the word Western actually works together quite well (when he’s not returning to the Sioux Ogla in The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) A lead who isn’t American in a Western begins to stretch the boundaries of what the genre can be. More realistic as an Irish sheriff as he is appears in The Deadly Trackers (1973) which at first showed real promise of being something rather good. I was first struck by the use of stills and dialogue to introduce us to the town where Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick operates a tightly run town that is safe and organised. He has put down roots with a wife and child aswell, he’s living the American dream.
The dream soon turns sour with the arrival of a gang of 4 outlaws ride into town, ignoring all the warnings that Kilpatrick runs a tough town, a man not to be messed with. We have only seen this film through stills and audio so far and a dated canvas painting filter, trying to pull us back into a long-gone time that has been painted. I could have watch the film in still form (inspiring current work) before breaking with a gunshot at a bank-robbery that would change the course of the sheriffs life forever. The man who single handedly orchestrates the town to pick up their guns, barricade the town, ready to spring upon the gunfighter’s. He has power, respect and love in his life all up until this point until gang leader Frank Brand (Rod Taylor) who inadvertently holds Kilpatrick’s son at gunpoint. Will he shoot or wont he? There are moments when you think we’ll see this child fall to the floor covered in blood.
So far we are off to a good start, the law is like an army, the town comes alive to surround and pacify the unwanted bank-robbers before the tables are turned upon them. Taking the money and even child in the dust, before Kilpatrick’s wife Katherine (Kelly Jean Peters) who runs alongside, in a dramatic moment that causes both their deaths. It’s grim stuff to watch, even more so when you next see the now shattered sheriff who begins to lose all sense of reason as a posse sets off to track down the four men who both robbed the town of their money and the sheriff his family, he has to act to have revenge and see justice done.
Turning to the gang of outlaws they are all pretty much 2 dimensional characters, there are attempts to make them more so are laughable really. The only one we see more of is Brand played by Taylor is an ex-confederate officer who uses his uniform as a badge of honor. An ex soldier who has gone rogue, Taylor just really doesn’t sell the role of a dangerous man to me, it feels forced like the Southern accent. Turning to his band of men starting with School Boy (William Smith) who is basically illiterate and stupid, they leave him to his death, believing he will follow him. Next we have the token black guy Jacob (Paul Benjamin) who is the most educated of the men, his ideas do show real thinking compared to the leader whose driven mostly by greed. The dumbest of the characters in name and back story is Choo Choo (Neville Brand) who lost both his father and hand on the rail-road, strapping a section of sleeper in its place. It’s really laughable.
Ok with all the idiots in place we have one guy who tries to hold this film together, a Mexican sheriff Gutierrez (Al Lettieri) the only one with the law on his side, there’s no jurisdiction for Kilpatrick in the country who will not give up on his now murderous rampage. The law that was once on his side, has left him, living by his own as renegade, practically a criminal. Gutierrez is the law in the country and has ultimate power if the others choose to accept it is another thing. Its hard for Kilpatrick who becomes literally blinded for a time during his journey which shows how literal this film becomes. Visually it makes the film more interesting, he becomes dependent on the law that he has left to help save him. However it all goes wrong, the longer he spends in Mexico, the deeper he sleeps into the shoes of the gunfighter/criminal the harder it is for him to get out of them. Now I’m getting literally almost.
The film has good intentions that gets carried away with itself. You think you’re going to get a good strong film with Harris in the lead you’d think so at least. It goes down hill fast with silly characters that attempt to make a dark film gripping that actually becomes sloppy. The heart of the film is mushy not strong and rigid enough to withstand the action, its blurred by an idea which you see get knocked about which is a shame really. I don’t think I’ve wasted my time though, it does have a story (of sorts) which has Harris at the heart which you feel, just a shame on the execution.
- The Deadly Trackers (1973) (westernsontheblog.blogspot.co.uk)
It’s not just me who has seen the teaser trailer today for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s and director Alejandro González Iñárritu who scooped up best picture and director at the Oscars last year for Birdman earlier this year. I’ve been aware of The Revenant (2015) for a few months, the plot outlines stinks of a blatant remake with a different name and a twist on an earlier Richard Harris and John Huston film Man of the Wilderness (1971) which is in a very different tone at least to the trailer, It does however visually look the same to the older neo-Western that is an incredible film that relies more on action and acting than dialogue which is kept to a minimum.
It’s to early to tell really from this teaser trailer, there is a bear in both and they are left to survive in earlier America with Native American’s, I’m not too sure there’s going to be a boat being wheeled around this time somehow. The only other question is, will this be DiCaprio’s year at the awards?
Ever since I saw A Man Called Horse (1970) a few months back I was hungry to see the first sequel, The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976), not the most imaginative title, still it gets to the point. There is more historical backing to this tome around as we begin with the ambush of the Yellow Hand tribe as they’re forced to reallocate to land that is far away from the buffalo, their main resource to sustain themselves. Without food any society’s doomed to die. All this takes place after John Morgan (Richard Harris) has returned to his life in England, not one that is really suiting him, we found him miserable in bed, the regularity of life at home is nothing compared to what he experienced with the Yellow Hand Sioux. His instinct is to go back for one year and no more.
Set during the 1830’s the wild west is still very much untouched, with settlements springing up, such as the fort that drove away the Sioux tribe to near extinction. I could get political about this but the film does is subtly for me as white settlers make use of “friendly’ natives to drive others away, the first of many to be broken treaties. Something that Morgan/Horse is aware of when is learns of his adoptive Peoples situation.
Making use of his position to push his way into the newly built fort to understand what is gong on. His time back in civilisation has reverted him back to his natural ways, those adopted in the previous film’s, little more than memories and experiences. The spiritual side that he assimilated has been lost by his upbringing. On finding the Yellow Hand he plays the westerner giving gifts in hopes of earning their trust, the traditional trade of items for bartering with. This doesn’t go down with the elders who don’t need these gifts and superior weapons. First needing to rid themselves of the bad spirits they believe are with them. This is hard for Morgan/Horse to understand at first needing to go on a vision quest to truly understand what is going on, getting back in touch with that spiritual side that he had since lost. This is something that we don;t get in the traditional western, focusing more on the nations relocation, its perceived and heightened savagery, which we see being deal out to an enemy tribe. There is however something that we have seen before, the white man teaching the others how to fight the white’s way. Learning new strategies, such as hiding in the woods ready to ambush the enemy.
I must say that as I saw this on DVD I had to put up with some condescending subtitles, reminding me they were talking in Sioux, which other language besides English would they be taking in. Some of the atmosphere of the last film is lost in having the Sioux speaking English. Maybe that was to reflect how immersed Morgan has become with this nation, no longer an outside, and why should we. I just wish the subtitles were a little less distracting. There is also more time spent with the Yellow Hand as a people in terms of traditions as the men join Horse in a ritual similar to the first film, it’s not as hard to watch as I’ve seen it all before to a certain extent, it’s only when boys join in do we become uncomfortable. With all the anticipation that I brought to the film, I was let down in places, the audiences is given some historical context to Morgan who lived with them for the rest of his life. However I wish there were no subtitles, less English and more time building up the enemy which become pretty faceless, we just know they are there.
The second half is action focused and fast paced after a slow build up for the spirituality before all arrows are launched in a pretty one-sided battle aka ambush. It’s not as considered or as thoughtful as the original, for many reasons, such as almost complete change in cast, apart from Harris who I can’t fault. The structure of the films weighed more towards cashing in on the previous success without really understanding it properly. The change in studio also is a big one, which would obviously lead to a change in tone and direction. Is it a worthy sequel? Yes and no, we see a valid reason for his return after a yearning to go back whilst I felt let down to an extent by the repetition of some sequences, not trying anything new, no more exploration, just expanding on what worked by tweaking it, not really that original.
- A Man Called Horse (1970) & The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) (every70smovie.blogspot.co.uk)
I’ve been waiting to catch the Japanese remake of Unforgiven (1992), wondering how it would compare, which I can’t help but do. On the face of it these two films are the same in terms of the basic plot, the three men who ride into avenge a prostitute has been attacked. There is however more added depth to Unforgiven/Yurusarezaru mono (2013) with the added strand of their countries civil war between the now samurai and Shoshon in the 1860’s, which mirrors the American civil, I don’t remember that in Eastwoods western at all. (However I haven’t seen it in 4 years) which gives the characters more of a back-story, not just gunfighters who left a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Much the same goes for the two elder men Jubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) and Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) who start out on one last job in hopes of collecting the reward money. Something that Jubei has long since given up since his days of killing to survive. To raise a family and work a small farm. You could say on the surface that he is a changed man who is simply struggling to keep his family alive in the 1880’s. Whilst Kingo is willing to go on one more job.
With Jebei’s wife long dead he soon gives into his friends persuasive words, riding out a while later. Its still very much the same film, switching 19th century America for Japan, its’s that simple. Of course the dialogue is different, at times I can’t read the subtitles as some bright spark decided to make them white in a font that becomes invisible in the snow. Moving on we soon meet up with a younger man who wants to join up with the veteran swords men, ready for another killing. Even his back story is fleshed out more, finding out he is a Anui a race that the then Emperor was trying to reduce, much like the taming of the Native American over the other side of the Pacific.
Add into the mix the small town where all the action takes places we have the sherif who exerts more power than necessary. Using violence to quell violence. Much younger than Gene Hackman‘s Little Bill Daggett who mirrored by the far younger sherif who doesn’t care who he hurts, using the law to shield himself. Whilst the group of prostitutes are struggling to be listened to. You could say it’s a feminist film, but I’m not too sure, as much as there women are willing to defend themselves, they still pay for men to do the dirty work. They are hiding behind the strength of a man and his gun/sword.
I think to really compare both films I need to re-watch the original Eastwood classic to truly understand what is going on. I think there was a conscious effort to make this version stand alone, whilst the main story elements are the same, it would;t be the same without the final showdown which was shaken up and completely different. I didn’t feel the terror at the transformed man, maybe it was the snow that soften it, not as dramatic as the rain on the soaked ground. Again I have to see for myself. It was however interesting to see once more the relationship between American and Japanese cinema. Before it was Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo (1961) and Seven Samurai (1954), who influenced Sergio Leone and John Sturges The compliment is being returned from Clint Eastwood by Sang-il Lee.
Moving onto or backwards to the original as directed by Clint Eastwood I found myself understanding both in greater detail and his own observations of the western as a genre, how it formed. The violence of the west and the gunfighter which has recently seen his latest film American Sniper (2014) becoming the most successful war film of all time (probably to be beaten later his year). Focusing always on the man behind the violence, not the act itself, what drives man/person to act in such a brutal and dangerous way toward others. Scaring those around you, in order to have power, dominance, material wealth, and self-confidence.
When a man gives up that violence as we find with both Jubei and William Munny they are tamed by wires who have died by the time we meet them. Now a shadow of their former self’s, trying to do good by their family. Before we have seen the lone gunfighter’s come into town, not looking for a fight, always walking into it by the films end. Which happens here in great style. And in great tradition of the aged gunfighter Eastwood carries that on, in his last western role, becoming then too old to really so it justice. I can see strokes of El Dorado (1966), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Shootist (1976) they are no longer the young men they once were, struggling to get on a horse or even walk without some ailment holding them back. Time is their only true enemy. Munny is no longer able to shoot straight without changing weapon at least once.
The legend of the gunfighter and the west itself it question the form of travelling writer/biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) who arrives with English Bob (Richard Harris) one of the last great gunfighter’s who legend is bigger than himself. A status constructed by the writer and a lot of creative license to mythologize the untamed west, glorifying a man to become more than his actions. Creating a history that sells to the masses, attracting tourism and money. The very foundations of the genre, which can sometimes be based more on fact if in the right hands. Beauchamp spends most of his time discussing the events of English Bob’s gunfights with Daggett who puts the writers book to shame, the truth behind the legend which. The facts are sometimes harder to swallow than fictions. We discover that the man now in jail had only survived so long was down to pure luck Drawing your gun first was never a sure way to win a gunfight, it takes skill and thinking to win at a draw. Draw your gun first as your aim is not always right, giving the other a chance. Add to that the alcoholic element for Bob who is painted in a far darker insidious light, is more malicious in his killings. Not the brave man who saved the day, more of a lucky drunk who could’t stop shooting. The skill of the gunfighter in the pages of dime novels or the screen is a romanticised vision of an age of survival; kill or be killed.
This is also a macho trait which we find in the youngest of the two men in ride with Munny to avenge the prostitute. The ‘Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) creates his own legend, first recruiting Munny to join him on what could be an adventure, a quick job that itself had been blown out of proportion. Stating that he has killed 5 men before they start even begin, knowing his youth is holding him back to match Munny’s record which is never really totted up. A very masculine trait to “big” yourself up to look and feel better, reputation is a very important part of masculinity. This doesn’t wash with Munny who eventually joins up with on friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) who then all join up. I can see even at the start, the subtle changes that were made between this and the Japanese remake to have its own identity, to not just be a scene for scene copy unlike I Died a Thousand Times (1955) which allows it to be the same in terms of structure whilst having its own identity, its own culture.
Both have these built-in myths of past fighters, with swords or guns who have had great battles which have been constructed around the events which were probably bloody and full of horror, alcohol, and fear. If you deconstruct both films down to their main points we have a male figure who has lead a violent life, which has a built in legend and reputation that others have built up and admired. Without the facts to hand we have no idea what really happened, the trauma, the horror, more importantly the shame they now carry with them. I remember from my first review a few years back of the Eastwood original I focused on how the violence in a man can be tamed or even suppressed, able to reform. Until it’s triggered we don’t know how dangerous we can still. Eastwood’s gunfighter will always be more terrifying cinematically, probably because I am a great western fan than of samurai which is almost equal in its horror of the slaughter of the men. The changing of the end is what I was most critical of, going for the sherif first was a wrong footing, the main villain is always killed last.
Whatever these two films are, they do carry on that great tradition of that American/Japanese cinematic relationship of informing each others story telling. Showing the western is not dead and both countries have very different but similar histories which at the heart of human. All cultures create legends out of historical figures from moments they would sooner forget.
- Unforgiven (2013) (disasteryear20xx.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (2013, Japanese) (yacowar.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (rogersworst.blogspot.co.uk)
- Sound in Unforgiven (1992) (tdf165.wordpress.com)
- 4. Unforgiven (1992) (maltinsworstratings.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (haksreviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (coffeebeancinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (unitedstatesofcinema.blogspot.co.uk)
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)