Friday, March 12, 2010

Going West

My Darling Clementine: Engaging retelling of the gunfight at the OK corrall, though they really have to twist themselves in knots to make the title fit (and even then, it doesn't; the Clementine of the film, a nurse from Massachusets who goes West in pursuit of a man who doesn't want her, is nothing like the girl in the song). Its main point of interest is actually a strong homoerotic subtext between Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and Doc Holliday (Victor Mature); forget all the gay-cowboy cliches, this one really does read like a Forties tale of forbidden love between men. Watch the director's cut if you can get it; the studio cut's not so interesting.

Once Upon a Time in the West: Actually, what impressed me most this time around was the sound design. The way whole minutes can go by without a single word of dialogue, but with meaning and atmosphere fully conveyed in the background noise. Also the sheer grimness and squalor of it all; Leone did more than most to stamp firmly on the myth of the West as a beautiful land full of beautiful heroes bent on taming it, and showing it instead as a strange, eerie place full of criminals and desperate people, whose heroism is achieved through their sheer determination to survive.

The Wild Bunch: Redemptive religious allegory disguised as an ultraviolent "Western" (the quotes are because it's set in 1917, reminding the viewer that life went on after the West was supposedly won). A gang of outlaws are forced to leave one of their own (tellingly named Angel) in the hands of an evil bandit; they can take their lives and money and leave him, but instead choose to go back and save him, knowing it will be at the cost of their own lives, and take down the corrupt bandit forces as they do so. Obviously it's a lot more complicated than that, but what I'm saying is, watch it with your "allegory" hat on rather than your "straight drama" hat on and you get more out of it.

Young Guns: A Brat-Pack take on the Western genre, and surprisingly good at that; OK, the characterisation and storylines are based on Western archetypes rather than deep character explorations and innovations, but the film is self-aware enough to play around with these, turning the Hero-Finds-Himself storyline into a lunatic drug trip and making it plain precisely how out of their depth the young gunslingers are against more experienced criminals. Mainly let down by the now-horribly-dated thrash-guitar soundtrack.

The Magnificent Ambersons: Orson Welles' complicated portrait of a selfish man who sets out to ruin his widowed mother's chance at a happy relationship, and, in doing so, winds up ruining his own life and those of everyone around him. One of these films that bears repeated rewatching, though it's blatantly obvious that the "happy ending" was tacked on against Welles' wishes.

The Hours: A story about same-sex relationships and suicide. Virginia Woolf has incestuous feelings for her own sister, and kills herself; Julianne Moore, a 50s housewife, has feelings for her own neighbour, contemplates suicide, and instead kills herself socially, fleeing to Canada and rejecting her own family; Meryl Streep, an out lesbian in 2000s New York, obsesses over a gay male ex-lover who commits suicide, reversing the sexual and gender taboos of the earlier iterations of the story.

In the Loop: Basically a triple-length edition of The Thick of It; if you like the sitcom, you'll like the movie. The message was essentially that British politicians become all obsessive and starry-eyed over Washington, but that Washington is really just a better-funded version of Whitehall, with all the same petty rivalries and nastinesses. The best Malcolm Tucker moment for me was the pornographic rant on the subject of costume drama, but there are plenty of great Tucker lines throughout.

Movie count for 2010: 22