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Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (Big Deal)

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flecks of disrespect toward people who profess to be Christians are found in some of Sam Peckinpah‘s movies (The Deadly Companions, Ride the High Country), and clearly Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) is no exception.  (I’ll give Straw Dogs a pass; it’s different).  But Christians need not be offended by Garrett:  the entire film is unloved pig vomit, not to be taken seriously.

It is easy to mistake the picture for a Bob Dylan musical, with bad songs aplenty—Dylan wrote the, uh, score—but, no, it is of course a Western.  This one, though, is not much enlivened by its scenes of violent action, gripping as these can be.  When it isn’t ludicrous, the material is tired.  The film is inert. . . As many as six film editors worked on it, with Peckinpah typically denied further control of the flick.  If only screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer had been denied any control of it.

Keats And Brawne: “Bright Star” Redux

Ambrotype of Fanny Brawne taken circa 1850 (ph...

Ambrotype of Fanny Brawne taken circa 1850 (photograph on glass) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A nice scene in Bright Star (2009), by Jane Campion, has the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) choosing to knock on a wall behind which is the bedroom of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who hears the knock.  Then Fanny herself, drawn to Keats, knocks back, with no other response forthcoming.  Shyly neither knocks again, or tries to communicate with words.  This physical separation between the two will become forced and lengthy as time goes on.  A love affair develops, and Keats implacably becomes everything to Fanny; but the couple is parted for long periods of time.

Fanny—the film is more about her than about Keats—is a proud, sometimes haughty dressmaker, who is usually even-tempered and who loves her mother and siblings.  And she gets to love Keats against all odds—such as John’s illness and his skeptical best friend, Charles Armitage Brown—but, woefully, she cannot keep Keats.  He travels to Italy for the sake of his health.  His illness kills him.  Critic Dana Stevens is right that “Campion captures the narrowness of most people’s social worlds [in the early 19th century],” and in her narrow social world Fanny suffers continually.  Though beautiful, Bright Star is an utterly sad film about defeat.  There is little light at the end; life here seems like a cheat.  All the same, the film isn’t too gloomy.

In an earlier review of the work, I praised the performances of Cornish and Whishaw.  They’re not the only ones, though, who convince as 19th century figures, for the instincts of Paul Schneider (as Brown) and Kerry Fox are also winningly sure.  Cornish owns the part of Fanny, especially when she’s lost in anguish.  Whishaw never takes a false step.  The music by Mark Bradshaw is delicate, the cinematography by Greig Fraser is incisive.

 

Is This “Nashville” In ’75?

Cover of "Nashville"

Cover of Nashville

Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville, was severely whittled down from eight hours (!) to two and a half hours long, and this is the only version we have. In this version at least, it is obvious that Joan Tewkesbury‘s script is shallow and biased toward ordinary Americans in the South.

Consider that every song the country-and-western top dog, Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), sings is sanctimonious (not likely), but that he himself is arrogant and disdainful.  Consider that Suleen Gay (Gwen Welles), a likable waitress aspiring to be a country performer, is more or less a Catholic hypocrite, and deluded about her singing ability to boot.  And this is only the beginning.  It is not that the film invariably fails to be honest, but that only up to a point is it honest.  Indeed, in many plot elements there is mendacity as well.

It can’t be denied, however, that Nashville is wonderfully imaginative, with commendable scene creation.  An example is the funny sequence with the traffic jam after a car crash.  And there’s the scene where Keith Carradine sings “I’m Easy” to a concert audience while the camera catches the faces of the singer’s female conquests, erotic desire rising in a watching—and married—Lily Tomlin.  Granted, the actors’ improvisation in the film leaves me cold, but the actors themselves don’t.  They know what they’re doing.

As director, Altman is outstanding.  Unlike Tewkesbury.  The movie is a superficial mess which I do not regret having seen four or five times.

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