randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Rio Bravo.jpgNovelizations of original screenplays don't get much respect in the literary world, do they? I'm trying to think of highly-regarded novelizations, and the only ones I can think of that get any regard at all are in the science fiction field. As far as I can tell, Leigh Brackett's novelization of the screenplay for Rio Bravo that she co-wrote with Jules Furthman, which was published in the year of the movie's release in 1959, has never been reprinted. I'm not saying it necessarily deserves to be reprinted, but it does seem like a strong enough work in its own right, with plenty of Brackett's trademark terse story-telling panache.

I believe novelizations are generally based on the screenplay and not on the final cut of the movie, because the idea is to get the book out at the same time the movie is released. I'm not so intimately familiar with the Howard Hawks film that I could spot all the differences, but I did watch the movie again a few days after I read the book and did spot a few differences. For instance, the book ends with Dude and Stumpy gleefully discussing Chance's prospects with Feathers, where in the film there's another scene between Chance and Feathers. The beginning is different too, with two chapters from the point of view of Pat Wheeler as his wagon train arrives in town and is momentarily halted by Burdette's men. (This is referred to in passing by Wheeler in the film.) The book includes a scene where Colorado shoots at some of Burdette's men as they ride by on horseback that isn't in the film, and I actually just spotted the scene in the book where Chance puts Feathers to bed that's not in the film. Instead of the scene in which Dude and Colorado sing songs (which I don't think I'd ever seen before, probably because it's edited out of most TV showings of the film as dead space), the book just briefly mentions Colorado singing to himself and Chance overhearing it.

In general, and as you'd expect, the book has more description of what the characters are feeling and thinking and what happened to them in the past, although there still isn't a lot of backstory. I think the book actually works somewhat better than the movie in terms of the characterization, because: a) Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson aren't all that great at putting their characters across, and b) John Wayne is always John Wayne. Not that John T. Chance is much more than a generic heroic sheriff in the book, but he doesn't come across as "the John Wayne character" the way John Wayne always does. In fact, another thing that has always mildly bugged me about the film is that Wayne seemed a little too old for the part, especially the romantic parts of it (which are also painfully generic).

The book includes one piece of dialogue that actually kind of shocked me and seems completely uncharacteristic of Brackett. In the conversation between Wheeler and Chance in the hotel saloon, where Chance tells Wheeler to stop trying to find help for him and Wheeler sneers at the alcoholic Dude, Chance explains to him what drove Dude to drink: "A green-eyed, yellow-haired, two-titted female." As I say, it seems unlikely to me that Brackett wrote this crude line, although I can't say for sure that she didn't. It's also at odds with the film's fairly shy, boyish attitude toward women, and there's absolutely no way it would have made it into a mainstream Hollywood movie of that era. Was it just thrown in to give the book readers something a little spicier to chew on? Very strange. Another slightly racier aspect of the book is that the fancy red see-through underwear that Carlos buys for his wife, Consuela, are later seen being worn by Consuela herself.

Well, I guess I'll say that the book was better than I thought it would be, and leave it at that. I think it would be interesting to scholars of the movie, but its rarity probably makes it hard for them to get their hands on it. Not that I've read a lot of scholarship on Rio Bravo, so what do I know. It's also definitely of interest to Leigh Brackett fans. It's not as good as her original Western, Follow the Free Wind, but it's not as far off as you might assume. A really solid piece of writing based on a superior if old-fashioned movie. (Watching the film again, perhaps the first time I've actually watched it all the way through, reminded me that Hawks borrowed some elements from Sternberg's 1927 gangster film, Underworld, for reasons that are still unclear to me. But that's a subject for another day.)
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Follow the Free WindBrackett won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for this 1963 novel about the historical figure, Jim Beckwourth. Beckwourth was born into slavery in Virginia in 1798 but was freed by his slave-master father to become a mountain man and trapper in the West. In 1856 a writer named Tom Bonner published a book called The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth that was based on stories that Beckwourth had told him. Brackett's novel is partially based on this book, although she had other sources as well. In an author's note, Brackett says she invented a few of the characters, but many are based on real people as well.

The Beckwourth of the novel is a very Brackettian character: He is impulsive and violent, tormented by social constraints and inner demons. Brackett's 1957 novelette, "All the Colors of the Rainbow", dealt with racial bigotry in a science fictional setting, and she was clearly sympathetic to the cause of Civil Rights. However, the racial prejudice Beckwourth faced is not her main focus, even though she doesn't duck it either. She makes no bones about the fact that most white people hate Beckwourth for his race, and indeed shows him living amongst the Crow for many years by preference. But the freedom of the book's title is more a nostalgic freedom from civilization than anything. Brackett had strong libertarian tendencies, at least in her fiction, and this novel is a celebration of the free life in the the Wild West and a valedictory for the loss of that freedom when the settlers poured in. This is a traditional theme of American Westerns.

The Indians are depicted with great sympathy, although Beckwourth ultimately finds their way of life pointless, with its eternal inter-tribal warfare and coup-counting. But the defeat of the Indians as part of the settlement of the West is treated with the same sense of loss as Beckwourth's loss of his own way of life, which was inextricably wound up with the Indians. The mountain men knew how to coexist with the Indians, in this view, and it was only the encroachment of people who needed land to live on and to farm that created conflict and ultimately transformed the situation. This is treated as both inevitable and tragic, and again this resonates with Brackett's stories of the ancient civilizations of Mars losing their way of life to both time's decay and colonialist Earthmen.

Brackett was no stranger to the Western genre. She co-wrote the screenplay for Rio Bravo (1959) and apparently wrote a novelization of that as well. She went on to work on two more Western screenplays for Howard Hawks, El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970) -- both of them essentially rewrites of Rio Bravo, much to her disgust. (Hawks and John Wayne insisted.) Follow the Free Wind, however, is the only Western I know of that she wrote on her own. Beckwourth is a fascinating character, and Brackett does a good job of exploring the conflicts and contradictions in the life of a freed slave who left his imprint on the nation, giving his name to Beckwourth Pass in California, which ironically paved the way for the settlers coming to California in the wake of the gold rush.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
On Wednesday, [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw and I saw Kelly Reichardt's latest film, Meek's Cutoff, and I expressed some disappointment with it in my review. Today via a thread about Jesse James at TNC's blog I learned about George Washington Bush, a black man from Pennsylvania who ended up settling in the town of Bush Prairie in what is now Tumwater, Washington, at the southern tip of the Puget Sound. Meek's Cutoff is set on the Oregon Trail in 1845. According to Wikipedia, "In 1844, Bush and his family (along with five other families including his friend Michael Simmons) left Missouri, heading west on the Oregon Trail. Bush's navigation skills and knowledge of the western region, gained during his years as a trapper, and while allegedly travelling around practicing polygamy with his seven other wives, made him the indispensable guide of the party."

I wrote in my review of the film that it is cut loose from history, but it occurred to me this morning that the radical uncertainty at the end of the film might well be a preface to history. That might explain the feeling of dread. History is about to happen, and it's going to be ugly process of war and dispossession. So it's interesting to read Bush's story, because it's actually pretty cool and has a happy ending. He tried to settle in Oregon, but it was already U.S. territory and blacks weren't allowed to own property. That's why he moved north into territory that was still claimed by the British as well as the U.S. British law allowed blacks to own property. When the U.S. took control of the land and formed the Washington Territory in 1853, "one of the first actions of the Territorial Legislature in Olympia was to ask Congress to give the Bushes unambiguous ownership of their land, which it did in 1855." One of Bush's sons was a member of the Washington State Legislature and was instrumental in the founding of Washington State University.

One of the frequent refrains at TNC's blog is that the Western genre has for too long ignored the place of blacks in the settling of the American West, where many of them fled to escape slavery or the post-war terror campaigns of the Ku Klux Klan. George Washington Bush's story seems like prime material for a revisionist Western. Meek's Cutoff has a different revisionist approach to the Western, but it's interesting that Bush's experience as a guide on the Oregon Trail could act as a kind of prequel.
randy_byers: (pig alley)
Well, the Coen Bros' True Grit is a true hit at the box office, already earning over a hundred million and still going strong. I saw it for a second time at the Majestic Bay last night. The first time was just over a week ago with [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond and [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw, and I enjoyed it while finding it perhaps a bit slight somehow. Last night I saw it with [livejournal.com profile] jackwilliambell and [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw (whose third viewing it was), and no longer found it slight. It's actually perfectly structured and compact, packing a lot of story in a tight frame.

Because the movie is so popular, it almost feels like there's nothing much to say about it that hasn't been said before. The characters are well-drawn (even the minor ones), the language is beautiful and funny, the action scenes are exciting (and very violent in places). The humor was much more powerful the second time through, perhaps because the language is strange enough that I didn't understand some of it the first time. (Hillbilly Shakespeare, as someone has called it, which is also a pretty good description of the language in Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil, which oddly enough could feature a younger Rooster Cogburn in some scenes, at least in the world of fan fic.)

I think part of what felt slight the first time is that the action climax is not as interesting as the characters themselves and the coda seemed weak, but now I think the ending is actually quite complex in structure, even ignoring the mythically beautiful and mysterious night ride (in which Glenn Kenny has detected the influence of F.W. Murnau.) The coda on a second viewing felt more like the coda of No Country for Old Men -- a gesture at incompleteness and the unbearable lightness of being. The great adventure slips into memory and is lost in time.

One thing I haven't seen much commentary on is a couple of strange scenes involving non-white children. Well, I did see someone say that if John Wayne had kicked an Indian child in the original movie, he wouldn't have won an Oscar. But the even stranger scene, in some ways, and one that feels like it has the Coen Brothers' fingerprints all over it is when Mattie first mounts her new pony. There's a black stable boy helping her out, and it certainly rings strangely on my ears when Mattie says of her pony, "I'll call him Little Blackie." Then the stable boy gets off one of the funniest lines of the movie, although it only makes sense if you've seen earlier scenes. I can't see any point to the implied racial tone-deafness of the scene, and it just feels like one of those Coenesque moments of pointless squirmy uncomfortableness, like the strange scene in Fargo where Marge is hit on by her old high school classmate.

A signature moment, perhaps, but no more so than the brilliant and deeply moving night ride, which is truly one of the unforgettable sequences in films of the past year.
randy_byers: (thesiger)
Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wrdnrd, who learned that as a volunteer at the Grand Illusion she has the right to occasionally make use of the theater in off hours, and therefore organized a private screening of the Korean cut of The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008) for a few friends, including me and [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw. Luke and I had previously seen the international cut of the film at the Varsity, and it left me a little confused about the politics and history underlying the story. The Korean cut includes more scenes involving the Korean independence movement (the film is set in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation in the late '30s), although while it gives more context to what's happening, it's still a thread that's left dangling at the end. Still, the movie is a complete hoot, aside from some sadistic violence, and proposes the chase scene as a way of life. Really enjoyed it the second time through, and I appreciated being able to see the alternate cut. The movie throws a lot of different Asian languages at you without letting you know what's what (the English subtitles don't differentiate), and it was a bit easier to identify them this time.

Anyway, thanks again, [livejournal.com profile] wrdnrd! It's nice to have friends who can organize cool things like this.
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There's just no way that a movie with Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Dame Judith Anderson in the cast can be bad, is there? Put them in a dark, perverted Western story based on a novel by Niven Busch (Duel in the Sun, Pursued) and directed by Anthony Mann, and you've got a doozy. You know, if Barbara Stanwyck gave me that look, I'd shrivel up like an ant under a magnified sunbeam, but Judith Anderson just laughs. And you know, maybe that's not such a great idea, even for Dame Judith Anderson. You really don't want to piss Barbara Stanwyck off, especially when she's in Electra mode.

QOTD

Jun. 16th, 2010 06:06 pm
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Rancho Notorious (1952)


'Vern’s crusade to track down the rapist and murderer of his love pushes the film (and the usually somewhat milquetoast [Arthur] Kennedy) into unusually dark territory for such a docile-looking product. Vern is a conniving and sinister hero, willing to fake friendliness and even romance to insinuate himself deep into the milieu of outlaws and loose women in order to achieve his ends. This is how he hears of the “Chuck-a-Luck” (Fritz Lang’s own title for the film before Howard Hughes made him change it for something equally nonsensical), the desperado safe-house run by former bordello denizen, La Dietrich. Her character –- the weirdly named Altar Keane -– is a strange, revisionist take on her usual persona, a relocation of Von Sternberg’s mercurial, indefatigable anti-heroine ultra-vixen to a West slightly less Wild than it used to be. Appropriately, Altar is introduced in flashback, conducting a Weimar-style bacchanal in a gold-rush saloon run by William Frawley (Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy; here, he’s “Baldy”, a pimp and casino-king, who tries to screw Altar Keane out of her money). Cultural translation is definitely underway when Dietrich sings in her woozy German monotone the old adultery ballad “Black Jack Davy,” popularized as frontier lore by the Carter Family (among many others). With this first sight of Marlene riding like a jockey on a man’s back in a bout of ecstatic, tawdry whoring, we’re experiencing a kind of compound nostalgia for various bygone eras of Hollywood and Germany and the American Frontier, however fictional these eras might be.'

-- Not Coming to a Theater Near You
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Rancho Notorious (1952)

"I wish you'd go away and come back ten years ago."
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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966)
randy_byers: (thesiger)
Saw this South Korean film with [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw at the Varsity last night. As the title indicates, it's an homage to and parody of Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's a comedy action adventure, heavy on the comedy and the action, although with an undercurrent of politics and history that I wasn't sure I fully understood. It's set in Manchuria after Japan invaded but before WWII broke out. Three Koreans are in pursuit of a map that leads to buried treasure that they want to find before the Japanese do. One is a thief, one is a psychotic killer, and one is a bounty hunter. It was the Korean perspective that I wasn't sure I fully understood, and it gets quite complicated at times, as when we meet a Chinese-speaking character who reveals himself to be a Korean nationalist who is actually working for the Japanese.

It's basically one long chase with occasional shoot-outs, leading to a stand-off between the three leads in the wastelands of Manchuria. It's really funny and goofy, and the action scenes are dynamic and well-constructed. There's a level of violence and sadism that some might find off-putting, although it's very much in line with Leone. At times I was reminded of Alex Cox's Straight to Hell in the sort of punk-anarchic-surrealist attitude it has, although this one has an actual script and budget and doesn't meander aimlessly. I really enjoyed it. Great music throughout, too, including a jamming instrumental over the end crawl that made me think of Booker T and the MGs.
randy_byers: (pig alley)
Last night I watched Dodge City -- a 1939 Technicolor Western directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Alan Hale fresh from the triumph of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), but alas no Una O'Connor. There's no movie that couldn't be improved by the presence of Una O'Connor, and while Dodge City has some great moments, it needed something more. Although I'll give it credit for giving us a Western hero played by the Australian Errol Flynn as an Irish soldier of fortune turned cowpoke turned (over the course of the movie) frontier sheriff. I also liked one of the early title cards: "Dodge City, Kansas - 1872. Longhorn cattle center of the world and wide-open Babylon of the American frontier - packed with settlers, thieves and gunmen."

Curtiz gets some love from auteurists like Dave Kehr, but I haven't really noticed a particular thematic voice in his work. He was a very successful studio director who was given big budget projects like Dodge City. This is one of those A list spectacles that strings one familiar trope after another and stages them in grand style. One of the best sequences is an epic barroom riot. But what was interesting from an auteurist point of view was what started the brawl. One group of bar patrons started singing a song, and then another group started trying to drown them out with "Dixie". The two groups try to outsing each other at the top of their lungs. This is of course reminiscent of the scene in Curtiz's Casablanca (1942) where the Nazis start singing "Das Deutschlandlied" in Rick's Cafe and the other patrons counter with a stirring rendition of "La Marseillaise" -- always one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

I didn't recognize the song that was countered by "Dixie," but I'm really wondering about that. It turns out to be a famous Civil War song by Henry Clay Work called "Marching Through Georgia." Is it really possible that I've never heard this song, or did I just not recognize it? It sounds like I really should know it. The Wikipedia article claims that "Outside of the Southern United States, it had a universal appeal: Japanese troops sang it as they entered Port Arthur, the British Army sang it in India, and an English town thought the tune was appropriate to welcome southern troops in World War II." I'm fascinated by the lyrics, particularly this verse:

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground
While we were marching through Georgia.

They just don't write war songs like that anymore, do they?
randy_byers: (Default)
Saw this Takashi Miike film with [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw at the Egyptian last night. It's a nutty mash-up of Yojimbo (1961) and Django (1966), melding elements of samurai movies and spaghetti westerns (which have a long relationship in film), Shakespeare and Zen, with a Japanese cast speaking difficult-to-understand phonetic English. It's pretty funny and has a lot of nice visuals, but it seemed a little too arch to have much real bite. Unlike Miike's superhero pisstake, Zebraman (2004), for instance, this one doesn't go so far over the top of absurdity that it becomes heart-breakingly sincere again. Part of it may also be that I just don't have much affinity for spaghetti westerns. I've seen Django, for example, but was turned off by the sadism. There's a rape scene in Sukiyaki Western Django that I also found very off-putting. I can only go so far down the exploitation movie path, which is why I pick and choose with Miike. I'm not interested in any of his gangster gore fests, or horror films like Audition (1999).

That said, most of the violence in Sukiyaki Western Django is played for laughs and is often reminiscent of Sam Rami's The Quick and the Dead (1995) (another spoof of spaghetti westerns), and on a purely technical level there is at least one fight scene that shows how to make a fight scene chaotic without being disorienting or incoherent. Christopher Nolan please take note! There are also a lot of typical Miike grace notes, such as the beautiful shot of an unfurling rose blossom that revels a birthing baby at its core. And the rose variety is called Love. Come to think of it, there are many elements of this film that are reminiscent of Miike's melancholy stranger-in-a-strange-land hitman-family movie, Rainy Dog (1997).
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I believe I posted a while back about Jonathan Rosenbaum's list of a dozen eccentric Westerns, and I've since watched a few more of the films, including Nicholas Ray's sublimely hysterical and operatic Johnny Guitar and William Wellman's scenery-chewing dysfuntional family art Western, Track of the Cat. The latest is one I've longed to see for years and wasn't sure I'd ever get the chance, Jacques Tourneur's Canyon Passage, which is now available on the Classic Western Round-Up Volume 1 DVD set from Universal.

A long and winding review ... )
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I watched three movies over the three-day weekend: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Johnny Guitar (1954), and Duel in the Sun (1946). I watched Johnny Guitar three times. What a brilliantly crazy movie! And I've just now realized that Almodovar is a link between these three movies. In Matador, we see the brilliantly crazy love-death ending of Duel in the Sun. In Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, our heroine is a voice actress working on a Spanish dub of Johnny Guitar. The scene we see her dub is this one:

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?

Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.

Johnny: Don't go away.

Vienna: I haven't moved.

Johnny: Tell me something nice.

Vienna: Sure. What do you want to hear?

Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited...

Vienna: All these years I've waited.

Johnny: Tell me you'd have died if I hadn't come back.

Vienna: I would have died if you hadn't come back.

Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.

Vienna: I still love you like you love me.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown would be a pretty good name for Johnny Guitar, too. Who was it that told me that Mercedes McCambridge's Emma sounds like Rocky the Flying Squirrel in this movie? A maniacal, murderous Rocky, which makes it even more surreal. I love Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place too, but Johnny Guitar just became my favorite of his movies.
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Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted a list of A Dozen Eccentric Westerns. Some I haven't seen and a few seem pretty conventional. I love The Naked Spur, for example, but despite its unusual psychological approach, it doesn't seem particularly eccentric to me. I'll definitely go along with Forty Guns, Johnny Guitar, and Dead Man, and I'm very curious about Track of the Cat, which was recently released on DVD. I suppose I should be more curious about the bizarre-sounding B-Western Terror in a Texas Town and Monte Hellman's The Shooting, which Rosenbaum calls "the only truly avant-garde western on my list."

One film that seems sorely missing is Raoul Walsh's Pursued (1947), which is often called a Western noir and with good reason. It is a densely-plotted, fatalistic, somewhat Freudian story that feels like a classical Greek or biblical tragedy, right down to the shocking dose of lightly disguised incest. I also have a soft spot for Mystery Ranch (1932), but I suppose the only eccentric aspect is the few dabs of gothic horror. Still, it also has Emperor Ming himself, Charles Middleton, as the grand piano-playing rancher villain.

The gaping hole in Rosenbaum's list is the European Western, although I suppose that part of the problem there is that from a purist perspective all of them are eccentric. I haven't seen a whole lot of spaghettis (and actually find the sadism in the few I've seen pretty danged off-putting), but the one that leaps instantly to mind as particularly eccentric is Giulio Questi's Se sei vivo spara (1967), which is called Django, Kill in the US, sometimes with the subtitle, If You Live, Shoot! As one commenter on IMDb puts it, "This parade of brutality has relatively little gun play but does have greed, corruption, madness, suicide, mutilation, gore, a horse bomb, a crippled hedgehog and a posse of fascist looking gay cowboys. There [are] plenty of religious symbols."

Of course, this reminds me of another hole in my own viewing, Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), which are supposed to be on the trippy, mystical side. Closest I've come to that is the recent French/international production, Blueberry (2004) (called Renegade on the US DVD), which is very psychedelic and in fact climaxes in a battle engaged in a peyote-induced dreamworld.

Anybody have other eccentric, or perhaps even baroque, Western suggestions? Perhaps Duel in the Sun? That one has always sounded like overripe fun.
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Fascinating article by Allen Barra in Salon today about the genre of the Western. [Requires you to watch an ad.] Barra argues that the written form didn't reach its maturity until the 1960s. For those who like lists, here's one of his:

'My reading list for Modern Western Novel 101 would include Charles Portis' "True Grit" (1968); Michael Ondaatje's collection of "left-handed poems," "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid" (1970); Ron Hansen's novel of the Dalton Gang, "Desperados" (1979) and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (1983), which has just been made into the most anticipated western film of the year starring Brad Pitt; Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic "Blood Meridian" (1985); Pete Dexter's elegiac twilight-of-the-god novel of Wild Bill Hickok's last days, "Deadwood" (1986); N. Scott Momaday’s "The Ancient Child," which juxtaposes the legend of a young Kiowa boy with the legend of Billy the Kid; Robert Coover's phantasmagorical "Ghost Town" (1998); Philip Kimball's sweet, sad and savage "Liar's Moon" (1999); and Bruce Olds' bracing postmodernist portrait of Doc Holliday, "Bucking the Tiger" (2001).'

I think I read True Grit as a kid when the movie came out, but the only other book on this list that I've read is Blood Meridian, which I liked a lot. Barra reserves special praise for two other books I've read, Lonesome Dove and Little Big Man (which I also read as a kid when the movie came out). One of his central points is that the judgment that the Western genre is dead is really about the classic John Ford-style Western movie, and that instead of dying the genre has evolved into a bunch of different interesting forms. He says of Larry McMurtry, "[T]hrough his novels, screenplays and essays he has probably shaped more people's vision of the American West than any man since John Ford. McMurtry’s West, though, is infinitely more expansive and inclusive than Ford's. One hesitates to call McMurtry's vision revisionist if only because his visions tend to feel more authentic than the visions he is supposed to be revising."

One of those articles that makes me want to visit a bookstore pronto with list in hand.
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Third time's a charm? The first two times I watched this movie, I thought it was a gorgeous misfire. Maybe I was just having a hard time swallowing the new-agey premises, because on a third viewing, I think it actually works quite well on its own terms. Make no mistake: this movie presents an unrealistic, idealized (or perhaps mythologized) view of Native American spiritual wisdom. But within that framework, it creates a fascinating visual representation of one man's peyote-induced struggle with his inner demons -- and with the nightmare of history. While it takes the form of a revenge Western, it's unusual in resolving the narrative conflict completely on the hallucinogenic spiritual level. Some people have compared this to Jodorowsky's El Topo, but I haven't seen that, so to me, it's a completely unique mash-up of genres.

With its theme of spiritual renewal, it makes a good New Year's movie. Thus my New Year's Eve review ... )

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