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Entries in westerns (26)


NYFF: Les Cowboys

Our coverage of the New York Film Festival turns to France - here's Jason line-dancing along with Thomas Bidegain's modern-ish spin on The Searchers called Les Cowboys.

Much like the killer whales that hover so symbolically over the film there are several themes swimming above and below the surface in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone. The one that landed the biggest blow was its dissection of patriarchal macho via Matthias Schoenaerts' character (Matthias has built his career on the dichotomy between his hulking frame and his tender heart). As a result Rust & Bone's final act, which felt like a detour at first, proved inevitable and invaluable to the film's ultimate achievement. Absence, it turns out, makes the heart grow colder, and only sacrifice - in this case the shattering of exceptional fists - could pound it back to life.

Les Cowboys, the first film directed by Thomas Bidegain, who wrote Rust and Bone (and other famous French films like A Prophet and Saint Laurent), similarly becomes a story of paternal symbiosis - the effects of a father's psychic touch, bruising adjoining generations. In fact the father in Les Cowboys (played by the usually comic François Damiens) and Matthias Schoenaerts' character in the earlier film share the name Alain. While they're both fixated on saving those around them, they're very different men. Cowboys' Alain, though, never finds his way to the forest from the trees. His obsession and his abandonment make eventual islands of everything he comes into contact with.

It's he first who is abandoned, when his sixteen year old daughter steals away in the night with her Muslim boyfriend, sending a letter behind saying not to follow. But follow he must, his pride as a father maligned. The daughter's action at first seems only thoughtless and cruel, an erratic whim of a love-struck teenager. With time - and there are long passages of time in Les Cowboys, trailing across similarly long and distant frontiers - as her father's eyes and words narrow and harden, we begin to understand she might've had more cause to search for breathing room.

There is also a son, a brother, barely even noticed at first. He's a footnote in his own father's eye-line, until he ages up into a capable third hand. What might become of him, dragged along in the wake of these two outwardly moving forces, both as good as ghosts to him? Les Cowboys has smart things to say about these almost ritualistic cycles of abandonment. Yes, one can be a wanderer, and yes two together (or, it turns out, two also apart) are always going some place, but three? Well, three leads to four and five and that universe, once thought ever expanding, manages its own ways to close itself back up again.

Les Cowboys screens at NYFF on Thursday, October 1 and Friday, October 2.


Pt 2 Smackdown Xtra: On the Waterfront with a Broken Lance

Nathaniel (your host), BrianMarkAnne MarieManuel and Todd VanDerWerff continue their Smackdown conversation. Here's part two of our 80 minute conversation

Pt 1 PODCAST - The High & Mighty & Executive Suite

Pt 2 (40 minutes)
00:01 Recap of Part 1 and we continue our On the Waterfront conversation seguewaying to the movie's rawness and experimentation, Elia Kazan personal voice, the influence of New York theater, and the slow death of the studio system
10:00 Broken Lance, Latino actors in Hollywood, Social Message Movies, and a shout out to Natalie Wood (?)
27:30 Thelma Ritter and other Supporting Actresses of 1954
35:45 Sign Off and Thank Yous. Last words from Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando 

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes Continue the conversation in the comments.

SUGGESTED READING: We reference two books in this conversation: Mark Harris's instant classic Pictures at a Revolution (which you've probably already read) and a brand new one: Brian Herrera's Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance. Pick those up. 

1954 Pt 2: On the Broken Lanced Waterfront


Broken Lance's "Half Breed"

Robert Wagner keeps invading our Smackdown celebrations. In our 1952 revisit he appeared briefly as a shell shocked soldier for Susan Hayward to comfort with her crooning in With a Song in My Heart. He was almost impossible to look at from the pretty. And here he is again, distracting another Smackdown with his smolder in the western Broken Lance.

Perhaps we'd better go inside."

[Translation]: Jean Peters, you're about to tear your clothes off under the moonlight and devour me but I will chivalrously save your reputation... now that I've already won you with my lips. 

The rising 24 year-old actor was rumored to be carrying on behind the scenes with the then 47 year-old Barbara Stanwyck (who happens to co-star in Executive Suite, another of this month's Smackdown movies) but his most enduring romance was yet to begin. How many times do you think a then 16 year-old Natalie Wood, just one year away from her key transition film from child star to teen icon (Rebel Without a Cause) demanded to watch Broken Lance? Do you think her friends & handlers were all "enough with the Broken Lance, Nat!" According to Natalie herself, by 1954 her love would have already been six years strong though the actors had yet to meet.

"I was 10 and he was 18 when I first saw him walking down a hall at 20th Century Fox," she recalls. "I turned to my mother and said, 'I'm going to marry him.' "

She did.

Natalie married RJ (for the first time) in December 1957. She was just 19.

In Broken Lance, the then 24 year old actor (of German and Norwegian descent) plays our protagonist, the "half breed" son of Native American princess "Señora Devereaux" (played by Mexican actress Katy Jurado) and an Irish cattle rancher (played by Spencer Tracy of Irish descent) who is at odds with his half-brothers. R.J. is heavily bronzed for the role. For all the typical Old Hollywood clumsiness with racial identity and casting -- something that hasn't changed much in the subsequent 61 years (note: Rooney Mara as "Tiger Lily" in the forthcoming Pan) --  Broken Lance actually really sells the racial identity angst with something like humane progressive verve. Jean Peters, playing RJ's love interest Barbara, jokes that her man is more upset about being half Irish than half Indian in a clumsy date scene which results in both of them doing those cheery Old Holllywood fake chuckles as we dissolve out. Elsewhere, though, there's rich drama. Tracy's three sons from an earlier marriage, who serve as the plot's antagonists aren't always comfortable with their bi-racial home but neither are they painted as explicitly racist. Their "evil," if you will, arrives from a more complex mix of agendas and grudges against their father and you can see that the eldest actually respects his stepmom and youngest brother, even as he speaks out against them. In the films most sympathetically acted moment of strife, Tracy squares off with the Governor (E.G. Marshall), over their children's unexpected romance (pictured up top). The governor's discomfort with his daughter falling for his closest friend's bi-racial son-- a young man he otherwise likes quite a lot and has seen grow up, mind you -- clearly scars both men, tearing their decades long friendship apart. Prejudices hurt everyone, not just the target of the prejudice.

All in all Broken Lance is an engaging western with more ambitions than gunfights for a change of pace. And this is why we should always love the Oscars, people. Let others reflexively gripe about it and miss out. Awards history directs us to movies we might otherwise never see from before our time. And Oscar history, for all its imperfections and blindspots, can illuminate pop culture throughlines, introduce you to rich now underappreciated talents, and provide wonderful anecdotal bits and bobs from mainstream history, cinematic and otherwise.

I love doing the Smackdowns and I hope you do, too. If you wanted to vote on this round, I need your votes by this evening at the absolute latest. The 1954 Supporting Actress Smackdown arrives Sunday morning at 10:00 AM.


SDCC Day 3: Multitudes of Peggy & Hateful 8 News

Anne Marie here with more from SDCC. Most of Saturday's buzz surrounded Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (about which Nathaniel already posted a YNMS), but if capes and cowls aren't your thing, here are 5 other entertaining bits of news from San Diego Comic Con.

5) EW's Women Who Kick Ass Panel assembled a great lineup: Kathy Bates on American Horror Story, Hayley Atwell on Agent Carter, Gwendoline Christie on Game of Thrones, Jenna Coleman from Doctor Who, and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Godot. Someone make this an actual superhero team please. 

4) The Sherlock Special sneak peek. Little explanation given for the Victorian setting, but it's fun to see Bendandsnap Cabbagepatch don the deerstalker.

3) Suicide Squad teaser is all anyone can talk about, but Warner Bros hasn't yet released it online. Fan consensus: Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn > Jared Leto's Joker. I just want to see Viola Davis eat that steak.

2) Hateful 8 Panel, interviews, and new poster. Notice that very important cinephile bait bit in the right bottom corner. Good tagline, too. Tarantino revealed that if he can't shoot on actual film, he won't make them anymore and TV might be a possibility. Best news: he convinced the legendary Ennio Morricone to compose his first western score in decades. The Original Score Oscar prediction chart already updated as a result!

1) Hayley Atwell's Dubsmash Videos. The Agent Carter star alleviated her boredom (and ours) with a Dubsmash challenge to her Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. buddies. She also posed with a huge group of Comic Con attendees doing Peggy Carter cosplay



Crawford Week Finale: To Those Who Can't Blend In!

This week's Joan Crawford mania, sparked by back-to-back best shot eppys (Mommie Dearest and Johnny Guitar) and a coincidental shout out to Mildred Pierce on Mad Men / reader question about Golden Age actresses, made this week something of an accidental theme week. For those who weren't feeling it, too bad! [Glenn Close voice]

Joan's not going to be ignored, Dan."

Joan cannot be denied. Nor can she blend in. Which is the topic of this final Joan post, my very late pick for that Best Shot party (I wasn't the only latecomer!). Let this one serve as a toast not only to the two time Oscar-winning cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr, but the costume designer Sheila O'Brien.

Best Shot. Joan, glowing like the sun in the center of the frame where she belongs.

There are many things to love about this western oddity but the single most amusing detail is that Joan has three costume changes during the extended climax. There's no time for a costume change like that time when you're running for your life! In the scene which really caught the Best Shot club's attention she is playing piano calmy in the center of her saloon (and the frame, naturally) in an enormous fluffy girly white gown. This change comes late enough in a picture in which she's only ever otherwise worn pants, that you know it's an in-your-face move meant to make a statement. (With the added benefit of pissing off her equally butch rival, Mercedes McCambridge). It's also the first time in the picture in which things go really wrong for her. Her lover Johnny Guitar momentarily rescues her from certain murder and they flee into the darkness. He's worried that she's like a great big lantern with that white dress on in the nighttime. So Crawford switches it out for an outfit that's.... wait for it... Bright red. Way to be inconspicuous Joan. A very brief time later, while still trying to avoid taking several bullets she switches that one out for... BRIGHT YELLOW. 

You will never catch Joan Crawford in camouflage. She will only spend time in the shadows if she can be beautifully lit emerging from them (see the whole of Mildred Pierce). A true star will not / can not blend in. Go ahead and put her in the center of the frame in shockingly bold colors, with nothing else to distract us. All eyes will stay on her regardless.

P.S. Curiously, though the costume designer Sheila O'Brien lived to be 80 years old, dying only a few years after Joan herself, she only served as lead Costume Designer on six Hollywood pictures, after a promotion from the wardrobe department. Five of the six were Joan Crawford vehicles so the Star obviously liked her, or Miss O'Brien worked very hard to appease the Star. Either/Or.  In fact, her first non "wardrobe credit" was "gown executer: Miss Crawford" (such a violent title!) on 1949's Flamingo Road, after which she became a lead designer. She was Oscar nominated for the popular Crawford picture Sudden Fear (1952). Her last Crawford picture Female on the Beach (1955) carries the immortal tag line:

She was TOO HUNGRY for love... to care where she found it!"

Weirdly O'Brien only has two credits after her time with Crawford and they're both years later. Did she upset the tempestuous diva? What happened to her? I'm suddenly desperate for a biopic on her. I bet there are skeletons in that wardrobe closet. 

Exit Music. Play us off, Joan!


Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Johnny Guitar" 

Tru-Color meets True Star-Mojo in this fever dream of a gender-bending Western, this week's "Best Shot" topic. Herewith some shot choices around the web (click on the pics for the articles) and a few of my thoughts as well, as your host. 

Director Nicholas Ray, too little known today, was on a real roll in the 1950s, and between his best loved films, noir classic In a Lonely Place (1950) and ur teen angst drama Rebel Without a Cause (1955) came this divisive oddity Johnny Guitar (1954).

We'd call Johnny Guitar a feminist Western except that the women have basically switched roles with the men rather than proven their equals. Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady as "Johnny Guitar" and "The Dancin' Kid" are, despite their considerable masculine attractiveness, essentially the passive "girls" of the picture, romantic objects or helpful companions who would rather not get caught up in bloody showdowns. Joan Crawford, at her butchest, definitely wears the pants in this movie literally and figuratively. Further complicating the highly discussable gender dynamics (the secret to why the movie had a second life if you ask me) is the inimitable Mercedes McCambridge as Emma Small. She's styled not unlike Joan's twin and she may or may not be in love/lust with The Dancin' Kid or Johnny Guitar or Vienna but she's definitely harboring repressed passions! 

(which you may join at any time - Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is next Wednesday!) 
8 shots chosen by 11 blogs 

Crawford strikes her movie star pose every single chance she gets."
-A Fistful of Films

I wasn’t completely sold on Johnny Guitar as a movie. I am sold, however, on Joan Crawford as a movie star."
-Coco Hits New York 

Sterling Hayden, epitome of masculinity, holding a dainty, PERFECTLY CLEAN, bright blue & white teacup."
-Dancin' Dan 

An image of things that shouldn't go together being forcibly wedged into one place...
-Antagony & Ecstacy 

Hilariously takes her enemies to task seemingly without a care in the world...
-Sorta That Guy 

A quick glimpse of the frame could be easily mistaken for a shot from, say, a Quentin Tarantino film, or perhaps a Russ Meyer film."
- The Entertainment Junkie

As if having her rival be dragged out and hanged wasn't enough, Emma's gotta be all small about it and make sure that everything is destroyed..."
-The Film's The Thing 

 It's a rare Western where two women are given the meatiest roles... and I loved how the central conflict boiled down to a showdown between them."
- Film Actually

[Paul Outlaw actually chose the piano shot but his runner up is this - love his comment on it!]

 There's no time for three costume changes like that time when you're running for your life...
-The Film Experience 

'It' their fight. Has been all along.' "
-The Spy in the Sandwich 


Taxi Driver (1976) which you have no excuse not to join in on. It's easy to find!
 [Amazon Instant | Netflix Instant | iTunes]



We Can't Wait! #13: The Hateful Eight

Team Experience is counting down our 15 most anticipated for 2015. Here's Michael...

Who & What: Fresh off the biggest box office hit of his career (and a second Oscar for writing) Tarantino returns for another go at the western genre. This story set in Wyoming a few years after the Civil War, involves eight outlaw types holed up in a mountain pass to wait out a blizzard.

The auteur promises The Hateful Eight will be no less than a cinematic event with exclusive 70mm engagements explicitly designed to remind people of the power of the theatrical movie experience and stave off the tide of digital projection. So, yeah, not lacking for ambition.

Why We're Excited About it: Love them or hate them, it is hard to deny Tarantino’s films are always worth seeing, discussing, dissecting. It's worth noting that while everyone has been focused on Quentin's film’s flashier, button-pushing aspects, the jittery auteur has managed the neat trick of getting mass audiences to line up for some daring, experimental filmmaking. On top of which he can always be counted on to give movie stars the material to reach new career high points. This time out the cast is a thrilling mix of old Tarantino favorites (Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Sam Jackson, Michael Madsen) Django bit players with beefed up roles (Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins) and Tarantino newcomers who could do wonders with the right role (Demian Bichir, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Channing Tatum). 

Samuel L Jackson tweeted this photo in November from a rehearsal. From left to right: Dern, Jackson, Leigh, Tarantino, Bichir (back to camera), Russell, Goggins, Madsen, and Roth

What if it all Goes Wrong? The loss of Tarantino’s brilliant, longtime collaborator, editor Sally Menke, was felt in Django, particularly in that film’s shaggy final act. Here’s hoping he manages to regain the sharpness this time. Also, if you are one of those fading fans who believe it’s been all downhill since Jackie Brown, there is no sign that Hateful Eight is anything like a return to maturity. On the other hand, a story about criminals holed up together told through a series of interlocking flashback does give off a strong Reservoir Dogs vibe. 

When: Currently slated for November 13 by The Weinstein Company. (Will it stay there? Django Unchained didn't open until Christmas.)