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Entries in westerns (30)

Wednesday
Jun012016

Judy by the Numbers: "On The Atchison Topeka And The Santa Fe"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Though we last left Judy Garland in 1944 crooning from a trolley and cementing a (troubled) place in Hollywood history, this week we must catapult two years into the future to rejoin our musical heroine. The reason has to do with the odd nature of the Studio System in general and this series in specific. Judy Garland actually shot two movies between 1944 and 1945, but because one was delayed due to reshoots (therefore getting bumped to next week) and the other was a straight drama (therefore not fitting a series focused on musical numbers), we must travel through the end of WW2 and the beginning of Judy Garland's marriage to Vincente Minnelli. Thus, in 1946 we arrive in... the Old West? 
 
The Movie:
 The Harvey Girls (1946)
The Songwriters: Johnny Mercer (lyrics), Harry Warren (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, & John Hodiak, directed by George Sidney 

The Story: In 1946, Judy Garland hopped off the trolley and onto a train for a Western-style musical entitled The Harvey Girls. I have to admit, while this is by no means Judy Garland's best musical, it remains a personal favorite for three reasons:

1) Judy Garland sings on a train. 
2) It's a musical western genre mashup that misses Oklahoma! by three years and and one saloon fight.
3) Angela Lansbury plays a chorus girl/prostitute named Em. In fact, the movie is a veritable Who's Who of MGM & the Freed Unit, since it also stars baby Cyd Charisse, the return of former Scarecrow Ray Bolger, deadpan alto Virginia O'Brien, and the delightful dulcet tones of Marjorie Main and Chill Wills!

More importantly for Judy, though, this movie shows the Freed Unit's ability to find a winning formula for its tiny Technicolor titan and stick to it. Like Meet Me in St. Louis before it (and many Freed films after it), The Harvey Girls was a musical that leaned heavily on nostalgia; a period piece mixing authentic songs - conveniently taken from the MGM catalogue - with new insta-classics provided by a rotating stable of songwriters. The plots of each of these movies revolves around Judy meeting, loathing, then learning to love a confounded-but-charismatic man; providing ample opportunity for musical numbers, slapstick, and a brightly-colored battle of the sexes. Though this decision may seem limiting, it also further defined Judy Garland at MGM: Judy's image would embrace the tension between modern stardom and nostalgic Americana, a potent symbol of post-war America.

Saturday
Jan092016

Podcast: Whodunnit and Whydtheydoit... "The Hateful Eight"

When the cats away the mice will play? Something like that. This week's two part podcast marks the very first without your host (none of you needed to hear me whine about The Hateful Eight again! -- plus I was sick the day of the recording). So let's see what Nick, Katey and Joe think of it in this sure to be exciting conversation; I only have a vague notion of what they each thought of it so can't wait to listen with all of you! 

24 minutes 
00:01 Introductions & Teasings
02:00 Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight: moviegoing crowds, racial & gender controveries, Agatha Christie mysteries
19:00 Reader Question: Three comedy performances that went wildly underappreciated this past year. Nick, Katey and Joe each pick a favorite. 

Part 2 will be up shortly

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes

The Hateful Eight. Intermission and All...

Thursday
Jan072016

The Revenant's Costume Designer Jacqueline West on Terrence Malick, Ben Affleck, and... Anaïs Nin? 

Jacqueline West at the premiere of The Revenant.© Frazer Harrison for Getty ImagesClothing was always in her blood though Costume Design came later. Two time Oscar nominee Jacqueline West (Quills, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), the daughter of an avante garde designer, originally pursued fashion. After building a successful clothing line of her own her career made a sudden fate-filled turn in the late 80s via a favor for a personal friend, the director Philip Kaufman.

Her filmography in the subsequent 25 years has been a grab bag of film genres --  her latest The Revenant (2015) is a 180 from Henry & June (1990) you must agree -- but the consistent throughline is that she's in demand with the auteur set. She's worked repeatedly with Terrence Malick, David Fincher, Philip Kaufman, and Ben Affleck. The Revenant marks her first, though one assumes not last, collaboration with Alejandro González Iñárritu. To get in the right mindset, she drew on her personal history -- she was intimately familiar with the Hugh Glass story before Inarittu and Leo were all about making it for the screen-- and eventually read a ton of journals by fur trappers, including the invaluable "40 Years as a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri.

Our conversation starts with The Revenant but you know yours truly won't let this talented woman go without talking Henry & June and other more glamourous gigs...

NATHANIEL R: You've designed many gorgeous movie costumes over the years but for The Revenant your challenge is so different. I imagine a lot of your job this time was making the clothes look disgusting!

JACQUELINE WEST: [Laughter]

NATHANIEL: They're overworn. They're muddy. They're bloody. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec102015

Team Experience: The Best of Brokeback Mountain

Ten years ago Brokeback Mountain arrived with truly bracing power.

10 years later Brokeback Mountain has lost none of its power

It was the rarest of things: an honest to god "instant classic". The phrase is overused but once in a while hyperbole proves true. The Oscars were stingy with it (just three prizes) but ten years on the film is as sturdy and majestically irreducible as the mountains that haunt the protagonists. When you're watching it you're breathing rarified air - not from the high altitudes of Wyoming but further on up, think cinematic heaven. The invaluable Ang Lee won his first Best Director Oscar for the film and it's easy to see why given the sensitivity of the performances (early career peaks from four promising ascendant stars), the classicism of the filmmaking, and his unshakeable hand as he sutures the neo western to the romantic tragedy with the thread of American masculinity.

I asked our contributors if they had a favorite scene they'd like to share with us and here were their responses.

FAVORITE SCENES IN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep292015

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.

Monday
Aug312015

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

THE SMACKDOWN IF YOU MISSED IT
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

Friday
Aug282015

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.