Tuesday, June 30, 2015

time to settle these free grazers

This month of Westerns is coming to an end. Just two more days after today. I will have watched 42 Westerns in 32 days. I will have driven over 2000 miles, visiting Tombstone, Arizona and Lincoln County, Roswell and Fort Sumner, New Mexico. (Wanted to go to Monument Valley as well, but that would have added another 400 miles or so.) Got a nice sense of the openness of the West while out on the road. Open Range was filmed in Canada, but it's got a nice openness to its early shots, before Charley (Kevin Costner, for the third time this month) and Boss (Robert Duvall, for the second) head into town to retrieve Mose (Abraham Benrubi).

It goes right back out into the open after just a few minutes in town. Oddly, this makes it stand out from a lot of Westerns; so many Westerns for decades have centered themselves in the town, dealing in the civilizing parts of said town in conflict with forces of chaos from outside, often in the form of Cowboys, outlaws. The conflict here is more between Ranchers and Cowboys. The former has fences, barbed wire (still relatively new in the 1880s); they close off the land where Cowboys previously would roam freely, letting the cattle graze a location then moving on. This film is structured the opposite of other Westerns in that the dangerous forces are coming out of the town, not going into it. Like in Unforgiven or The Quick and the Dead, it's the town that is corrupt.

It's a strange sort of angle on the Western myth. At some point, yes, we put out fences, tamed the West by sectioning it off. Coming so recently, and so late in the course of the cinematic Western, Open Range seems more like a lament for the the freedom of its title, rather than a celebration of its taming.

Boss boils down the... morality (I guess) of this story: "[Stealing] Cows is one thing. But one man telling another man where he can go in this country is something else."

I want to put a political bent on it, like the Western was inherently conservative and now it's turning progressive, except the literal setup here--wanting to roam the land free while fences mean progress--is a strange mix of conservative, wanting to go backward to a simpler time, and liberal, wanting to be free. Maybe it's just not as simple as politics. Maybe the Western has always represented a struggle between the civilizing forces and our natural impulses toward the open range, doing what we want to do. Perhaps the shift in some of these later Westerns doesn't represent an urge to move backward but a... sadness that we just can't. We can go visit, go for a drive perhaps through the Arizona and New Mexico countrysides. But, for this world to work, most of us just can't live out there anymore. Backward just ain't much of a thing.

Outside of the text, Open Range also operates as a lament that the Western has, for the most part, gone away. Westerns were huge on television once. Not long after this film was out, we had one more television Western, but unlike most every one that came before--Deadwood. Deadwood did not deal in the open frontier or, necessarily struggles with outside forces like Cowboys or natives. Deadwood was more of a Shakespearean treatise on law and authority, how the civilization part should be run, not a debate on whether or not it should.

As for complaints, I should note that the inklings of romance between Charley and Sue (Annette Bening) seem tacked on, but, since I was talking about feminism yesterday, it's nice to see a capable woman in a Western. The wives in Wyatt Earp seemed pretty capable but Wyatt was so dismissive of them it's hard to be sure. It would be nice if Sue has a more important role in the overall plot. (Then she had to walk out into the middle of the gunfight. Nice.)

And, this is a serious gunfight.

Monday, June 29, 2015

no women in quick draw

(As this month of Westerns winds down, it comes in handy that I've got a few extra films on my list. Turns out I forgot to find a copy of Wild Bill to borrow, it's not on Netfllix or Hulu, and there isn't even a good torrent of it available. So, the choice was watch it through iTunes and be stuck with a small screen or skip on past it. So, skip on past it, it is.

The Quick and the Dead boils a whole lot of Western tropes into the gunfight. the standoff in the street. Here, it's an organized contest, with a handful of stars, a few of which have been in Westerns before. The throughline is a vengeance plot, but with the elements out of order, saving explanations for flashback as The Lady (Sharon Stone) joins an otherwise all-male shoutout contest and immediately wants to challenge the big man in the town of Redemption, John Herod (Gene Hackman) to a fight. But, the setup is a bunch of duels.

The direction is fun, Sam Raimi's usual moving camera and angled shots combined with some extreme closeups that, come to think of it may have already been a staple of Raimi's style but here seems to echo Sergio Leone. (Maybe that's just where Raimi got it.)

The title, of course, is a reference to I Peter 4:5: "Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead." Except, the "quick" there literally refers to the living, but the film relies on the play on words--for a gunfighter is either fast or he is dead. Plus, Herod specifically claims that he decides who lives and who dies in Redemption

Before I get into whether or not this film is feminist--another possible film for today was Bad Girls, by the way--I wanted to lament one aspect of the production. Apparently, John Sayles was commissioned for rewrites, and put together what would have been well 2 1/2 hours of classic American Western. Sayle's Lone Star and Limbo are two of my favorite films, so I wish I could see that film, Sayle's writing with Raimi's direction... That would be amazing. But, most of Sayle's work was supposedly cut right back out by the original author of this script, Simon Moore. I would be interested in seeing the script before Sayles' work was pulled back.

Now, the meat of the discussion. Is this film feminist. Here's the thing--just putting a woman in a role that could otherwise be a man isn't necessarily feminist. But, when it comes to American cinema, there is a certain inherent feminism in simply having your lead be female (unless the film is a "chick flick" of course; there, it's expected). Our default is so stuck on men doing everything that it doesn't take much to be feminist. The Western has proven this month to be very male-centric, often excluding women almost entirely. It has rarely been particularly anti-woman, though. I suppose we're just too lazy for that. Easier just to leave the women out or on the sidelines than suggest too explicitly that they're inferior. We just make them de facto inferior by making them unimportant.

Then, we cheer on the likes of The Lady here--those of us who went to see it, anyway; it didn't do well at the box office (though, it was actually #2 behind Billy Madison it's opening weekend)--just like we cheer Cort (Russell Crowe) turning from a preacher who has disavowed the gun (back) into a killing machine. We're hypocrites...

Or maybe we just like seeing people shoot each other, no matter who it is. Maybe that is why the Western has tended to be successful as a genre; more than a lot of other genres (or settings) it allows for a whole lot of guns and gunshots. We Americans do so love our guns. First Amendment gets us film, Second Amendment gives film something to titillate us. We might like the occasional drama, and plenty of stupid comedy (and on rare occasion intelligent comedy), but give us action, give us guns and we will flock to the movie theater. Put a woman at the center of the film and, well, she better be hot, and better show some skin. Because, well, we're sexist assholes, too. She can have the starring role, just as long as a) she's attractive and b) she can shoot as well as, or better than, the men. Even though we all secretly know that's just a fantasy, because the only thing a woman can do better than a man is birth a baby, and that's just because we don't have the parts for it. Pretty sure it says that in the Bible. Maybe right after that quick and the dead bit.

See, having Sharon Stone in the lead here doesn't scare us because we know this kind of exception to the rule is just there to appease the womenfolk a bit longer so the patriarchy can continue unabated. She's just another commodity to fuel the continuance of a Hollywood where she just doesn't matter as much as the men do. She may think she's important, that she gets to pick the director--Sharon Stone did--and she can pay to get an actor she wants--Stone reportedly paid DiCaprio's salary herself--but this is just one film out of hundreds released in a year, and about 99% of those were focused on men.

And that hasn't changed in another two decades. That the recent Mad Max: Fury Road was centered around women, and women who didn't just fill in roles that could easily be filled by men, may have earned the film some headlines and excited feminists and frightened misogynists, but most of the movies this year, and pretty much all of the action films aside from that one, will be male-focused.

Because, that's how we (unfortunately) still like it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

the rest are just strangers

There are to many scenes set at night in Wyatt Earp. And, I say this not even 20 minutes into the film. There's a strange back and forth between very bright daytime scenes and too dark nighttime scenes...

I know this movie is long so I'm trying to just sit with it for a bit rather than start typing away and have yet another blog entry so long that no one reads it all the way through. Also, while I want to continue the discussion from yesterday about the good man with a gun, about how we automatically side with the authority, how we decide on impulse who's right and who's wrong, damn the details, I'm inclined to also get into a redefinition (again) about what the Western is because Wyatt Earp is structurally a biopic, not a Western. Not that we have movie rental stores anymore, but Westerns often had their own section, but did we separate other settings? The middle ages from the dark ages, the industrial from the enlightenment? The Western is a strange "genre" because its commonalities are not always thematic.

Meanwhile, our main character (Kevin Costner) just knocked a guy out and stole his money. His repeated proposals to Urilla (Annabeth Gish) might have been cute in a romantic comedy but here seem discordant next to him burning down their home after she dies, him becoming a drunk and a horse thief. (Plus, in reality, Wyatt was only 21 when he married Urilla. And only 30 at the time of the infamous gunfight. Kevin Costner was almost 40 when he made this film.) Now, Wyatt Earp did do a lot of different things, had a few wives and girlfriends, was a lawmen and a criminal. But, if you're going to make a film about the various adventures of Wyatt Earp (or any character who took his life in so many directions) you have to play with the tone of the film as well, not treat ever detail as reverently as every other one. Take the bicycle bit in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid versus the extended sequence in which they are tracked by Lefors and Lord Baltimore. The two sequences are quite different but we can still recognize them as being part of the same film. (Well, I've heard plenty of people who think the bicycle bit doesn't belong, but I disagree.) Here the various scenes are definitely part of the same film--the score makes sure to let us know that on a regular basis--but they should stand apart a little more; we're looking at decades of a man's life...

And, then Wyatt has to go and say, "if you do anything we don't much approve of, we got a legal right to shoot you down" and distract me from rambling about the poor direction here or the genre we're in. The real problem with Wyatt Earp is that it is about Wyatt Earp. Wyatt and his brothers had a tendency to act first and think things through second. Actually, at the pace a lot of, say, their feud with the Cochise County Cowboys happened in reality, maybe they did think things through. But, on film, you don't get the sense of the year-long leadup to the gunfight, you don't learn that it was a few months afterward that Virgil is shot, and another few months before Morgan is killed. The Vendetta Ride--that gets a montage in Tombstone and an even shorter montage here--lasted most of a month (and is probably more worthy of a film than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is.

(Wyatt meets Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid) while hunting down Dave Rudabaugh. Dave was, of course, a main character in Young Guns II, which would be not long after this. This is 1877 at this point, which is during the original Young Guns. The Lincoln County War hasn't ended yet.)

And, then I got distracted by geography. The problem with visiting the real Tombstone is knowing, for example, that the lot where Curly Bill (Lewis Smith) just shot Fred White (Boots Sutherland) was in (or close to) the empty lot where the Birdcage Theatre was not yet built (and, I thought it was already there, and it was there in Tombstone yesterday). That's a good two blocks down and five blocks over from the various Earp houses.

...

The flashback to the lynch mob at the end of the film is out of place...

Really, this film just wants to be Tombstone. Costner was supposed to star in that but didn't like the direction it was going... which I'm not sure what that means, because this movie makes Wyatt Earp to be just as bad a guy as that movie did. And, so much of this film is devoted to the time in Tombstone and the Vendetta Ride that followed that the Dodge City bits and the stuff before seem tacked on. All the extra stuff just adds unneeded weight. It should explain Wyatt Earp but, because of the bloated script and lazy direction, or Kevin Costner's limited acting range, there just isn't much depth to any of it. That poster is just one more problem. Earp is facing away from us, shooting into the air at... what? It's aimed at action but it's murky, confusing, the background a vague smoke or dust. That's a pretty apt description for the film itself.

and hell's coming with me

I lament the fact that we arrived in Tombstone too late last week to get into a few of the places. But, driving into town, we saw Boothill Cemetery first. The gift shop/entrance had this on the door:

Doc Holiiday (Val Kilmer) didn’t need his guns just now to kill a man, of course, in Tombstone. Set his guns on the table and stabbed the guy instead. Sure enough, Holliday was a bit of a killer and not a particularly nice guy.

Some graves, starting with the Cowboys killed at the “Gunfight at the O.K Corral”:

And, this marker which could fit right in outside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland:

A couple more:

Two gift shops—and a shot glass for my collection

later and we drove into the town proper, parked about 20 yards from this:

For the record, once again, the gunfight did not happen at the Corral but a good distance off, next to Fly’s Photographic Studio. right about where I was standing when I took these pictures: first, on fremont looking east, the porch at the right edge here is Fly’s.

And looking north.

I love how this version of Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) is like a barely contained ball of rage, so much so that it’s hard to believe he’s the good guy. As we’ve already seen in Gunfight at the O.K Corral, the Earp’s probably fueled more of the violence in Tombstone than the Cowboys did. Or, at least, they welcomed it.

The standoff at the casino (or whatever place that is; I’m actually not sure offhand which place the Earps took over when they moved into Tombstone... the Oriental?) with Ringo (Michael Biehn)—and this has got to be the fifth or sixth (or more?) Western we’ve seen Ringo in this month—and his gun and Holliday and his cup is awesome; it sets up the feud without any violence at all.

That location—and the pool hall—seem a little big for the town as it is... So much in that town seems quite small, narrow at least. Also I just noticed that the movie’s Bird Cage Theatre is angled toward the intersection. The real one is not.

The infamous gunfight only took about 30 seconds, but the Time-Life Old West book on gunfighters takes a few pages to describe it, and ends with this:

The gunfight was over. Of the eight participants, three men were dead, three were wounded and two—Ike Clanton and Wyatt Earp—were without a scratch. In less time than it took a minute hand to go round the clock, enmities had been resolved by a ritual obligatory for its proud performers. Yet, inevitably, a further reckoning was to come. (p. 33)

Of all the Western towns that existed in the real world, Tombstone was probably the one closest to what we see in film after film (and not just those about Tombstone), a place in which violence was somewhat common, and gunfights did happen in the street often enough to seem normal. Magistrate Court Judge Wells Spicer had this to say about the gunfight (and its locale):

When we consider the condition of affairs incidental to a frontier country, the lawlessness and disregard for human life; the existence of a law-defying element in our midst; the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed; the supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country, and kept away capital and enterprise, and considering the many threats that have been made against the Earps, I can attach no criminality to [Virgil Earp’s] unwise act. (ibid, pp. 33-34)

Trachtman (the author of that Old West text, argues, “As much as any other shoot-out, the drama at the O.K. Corral secured the reputation of the Western gunfighters as figures of elemental force, rough-hewn knights whose daring—if not their virtue—was beyond question” (p. 34). I’ll give him the “elemental force” bit; that was my entire argument about the fictional William Munny yesterday. But, the comparison with knights invites a strange comparison. In film and in story, knights are noble, good. But, knights were on the side of the nobles, not peasants. Knights were often caught up in petty squabbles between nobles when there weren’t real wars going on. I imagine them much like the gunfighters of American myth. Sure, they’re special, sure they’re good at what they do. But, that doesn’t mean they’re good. That doesn’t mean that when they go into the street and shoot a man it is justified.

I figure we can blame the Western myth, and the whole idea of the gunfighter, for every time we’ve got police officers gunning down (supposedly) suspicious individuals (seemingly) without cause. Just last week after the shooting in Charleston, there were more than a few people—and a couple politicians—saying that what we needed in that Church was a good man with a gun. We Americans just love the idea of a good man with a gun. (This film was directed by George P. Cosmatos, after all, director of Rambo: First Blood Part II.) We just accept that violence will happen and we build our stories (and some of our politics) on the idea that in that violence there will be a good man and he will do good in doing violence. Warlock explicitly, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Tombstone, if you look beyond face value, question the truth of this position; this violence is not a good in and of itself. The men who win the gunfight over the bad men are not inherently, or definitively good, simply by virtue of fighting bad. Doc Holliday, here, for example, is far more of a killer than just about any of the Cowboys or the Earps. Plus, he was a criminal, (probably) a stagecoach robber, and definitely a murderer. Here we have a Holliday who enjoys it and we love the character. The friendship between Holliday and Wyatt Earp forms the heart of this film and we eat it up. If these men can love one another and respect one another, and they beat the bad guys in a nice (and probably historically inaccurate) montage, then we applaud and enjoy the show. But, all we are doing, in the end, is cheering on frontier justice and the idea that a man with a badge is implicitly good, implicitly right, no matter what he does.

Next to Wyatt Earp’s house in Tombstone (which is quite small)

is a statue of Wyatt Earp. He isn’t shooting anyone, but he has his rifle ready, and his coat suggests motion, action. This is a man ready for a fight. And we love it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

all on account of pulling the trigger

(I considered including Dances with Wolves but decided not to, even though it did win Best Picture at the Oscars, because it's basically a ripoff of A Man Called Horse but for the re-inclusion of the soldiers as villains in the final act. So, we'll move on past it into the '90s.)

The fun Western didn't last long. Like that final bit of Young Guns II, with Billy recognizing that all those deaths were his fault, the Western had to realize it was far darker than it had been pretending to be. All those casual deaths, all that violence--that doesn't come without consequence. The brothel in that film was burned to the ground, its women run out of town. Here, we begin in a brothel, sex and violence twisted together to start us off. We get a clearer image of the status of prostitutes in Young Guns II (as trash to run out of town) and Unforgiven (as property that can be damaged without monetary (or the equivalent) restitution only), than in many a previous Western. And, The Wild Bunch had actual prostitutes in it. True Grit and Duel in the Sun were a strange sort of exceptions for Westerns in raising up the women. Pearl and Mattie were both punished for stepping outside the usual bounds, Pearl with her life and Mattie with her arm. Female roles in Westerns tend to be subservient to the men or, more likely, were just irrelevant, as much window dressing as the drunks in the corners of the saloon or the occasional Mexican.

Here, the women--the prostitutes--are the driving force behind the plot. But, the force they awaken is something much bigger. Eastwood's William Munny is not just a retired gunfighter, anymore than Clint Eastwood is a retired Western star. He's more like a force of nature and calling him up is dangerous. (Eastwood had the story in his sights back in the '70s but, supposedly, sat on it until he was old enough to play the lead properly.) His name is no coincidence. Possibly based on John Wesley Hardin, who claimed to have killed 42 men, or Cullen Baker, whose gang killed hundreds, Will Munny is a force of will and, technically, money since there is a reward in play.

In his original review, Roger Ebert supposedly complained about there being too man characters, and he or Siskel complained about the English Bob (Richard Harris) subplot because that character didn't interact with the stars. But, English Bob seems to serve a very clear purpose in this story. With writer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) in tow, he's like Pat Garrett, making himself famous as he goes through the written word. He's a legend in the making, whether or not he deserves to be. Little Bill (Gene Hackman) later dissects the stories about English Bob. That right there is the point to Unforgiven. The gunfighter is not a man to be glamorized in dime novels or even Westerns. Not anymore. Being a gunfighter meant being ready to kill a man. This is a role surrounded by death. Now, maybe a lot of the real-life gunfighters weren''t as prolific as some of their cinematic counterparts, maybe it's a whole lot of legend playing up their exploits. Or maybe it isn't. But, that difference is not important in the face of what it means. Recall the famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." The thing is, when it isn't fact, you still just print the legend. The legend is more interesting. The legend is about men being men, wearing guns at the their sides and fighting for what's right, fighting for honor, fighting for revenge, or just fighting to be fighting. It's a testosterone-based legend, the Western.

So, there are two things at play in Unforgiven. First, while the film leaves them aside for a while, you've got the women who have been mistreated not just by the men who cut one of their faces, not just by Little Bill, but by the whole West, by society itself. Still, we see the women occasionally, reminding us of their role, and reminding them that they have no power. After English Bob is run out of town, the women are yelled at by their... owner Skinny (Anthony James). But Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) sees that a rain is coming. More than she knows. The second thing is, you've got Will and Ned (Morgan Freeman) and the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) approaching like an oncoming storm. I'm reminded of the Saint of Killers in Garth Ennis' graphic novel Preacher.

Ennis, more than once, cited Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin as his inspiration for the character who is effectively the Angel of Death. The Saint of Killers began (well, sort of), much like Josey Wales, with a dead family. The Saint of Killers became a force of nature, fueled by anger and hatred. (By the way, Stephen King's otherworldly gunslinger Roland Deschain was also modeled on Clint Eastwood.) Will Munny--Clint Eastwood--is like the Saint of Killers, bringing death to the town of Big Whiskey. He tells the Schofield Kid at the beginning of the film that whiskey killed the men he was supposed to have killed, "as much as anything." And here he comes to a town named for the drink that he says fueled his killing. When he pushes away the shot of whiskey on the night he arrives in town, he is beaten. But, he is drawn to the town like the drink, as addicted to killing as to alcohol I suppose.

The problem with this setup is that, taken metaphorically, the women as a force of life are impotent. They are prostitutes, employed to have sex but not to bear children. And all the men are killers or wannabe killers, the force of death. But, arriving in town ill as he does, Munny is also impotent; he may refuse to give up his gun but he cannot fight to hold onto it. Then he meets an "angel"--the cut up prostitute Delilah (Anna Levine). (Given her name, it's probably a good thing that Munny turns down a "free one" from her. He probably would have lost all his strength.) When he tells her that his wife is back in Kansas, sure he's lying, but this is one more link between Munny and death. He is married to death.

He has power over life and death. When he shoots Bunting (Rob Campbell) in the gut, and Bunting wants water, Will tells the men with Bunting to get him water, that he won't shoot them, and he doesn't. Sure, he has fatally wounded Bunting but he doesn't want him to suffer. He has seen too much death, clearly. Meanwhile, it turns out Ned no longer has it in him to take a life. And, the Schofield Kid is basically blind, and also hasn't the stomach for killing. This trinity of death quickly turns into a solo venture.

Then, finally it turns to revenge after Ned is killed. And, once again it is raining when Munny comes into town.

The opening and closing crawl of text imply a true story, but this is no true story. At least, not in the sense that it is based on specific real characters and specific real events. It is of course, nonetheless, quite true, like many a Western is. Regardless of the facts.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

yoohoo, i'll make you famous

Electric guitar... a bunch of young actors. The Western is being reborn (or attempting it anyway) with Young Guns.

But then they've got to go and have 50-year-old Terence Stamp as Tunstall. Tunstall was 24 when he met Billy the Kid... Emilio Estevez (Billy) is 26, about 8 years too old. Kiefer Sutherland at 22 is actually 7 years younger than his character, Doc Scurlock. Lou Diamond Phillips is about the right age for Jose Chavez y Chavez (Phillips 26, Chavez 27). Charlie Sheen, at 23, is 5 years younger than his character Dick Brewer. Casey Siemaszko, 27, is 3 years younger than his character, Charlie Bowdre.

(Odd detail, that I only noticed because I was recently there. Tunstall tells Billy he can stay at the ranch or, if he wants, the Santa Fe leaves out of Albuquerque in the morning. That's a good distance to get by morning. Tunstall's ranch was south of the town of Lincoln, not sure how far, but from Lincoln to Albuquerque is 185 miles. The Pony Express riders were only expected to do 75 miles a day. And, this is already suppertime.)

Jack Palance, 69, is 12 years older than his character, Murphy. But Jeremy Lepard, 61, is 31 years older than his character, Murphy's business partner Dolan. They've got 49-year-old Patrick Wayne playing Pat Garrett here but then he drops to 37-year-old William Peterson for the sequel; Pat Garrett would have been 28 during the Lincoln County War, and 31 when he shot Billy the Kid.

(Billy meets Pat Garrett and speaks of him as if he's already famous. I'm not sure if Garrett was even back in New Mexico at this point in 1878 but he certainly wasn't famous. Chasing after Billy the Kid 2-3 years after this is what made him famous. I guess, since the filmmakers were just covering the Lincoln County War, they just included Garrett to be coy.)

McSween (Terry O'Quinn) wants the "regulators" deputized, and Justice Wilson (Victor Izay) insists none of them is even 21 years of age. In fact, Billy was probably the only regulator under the age of 21 at the time. And, not one of the actors is. But, you gotta reinforce this new Western as a young man's game.

The regulators here only have 6 men, five of which have specific counterparts with the real regulators. But, at any given time, there was probably at least a dozen, plus some Mexican supporters. There were 11 regulators, for example, present when McCloskey (Geoffrey Blake) and Baker (Cody Palance) and Morton (Sam Gauny) were killed. The general description (from Robert Utley's (1989) Billy the Kid A Short and Violent Life) seems to be that each regulator shot each man; Baker and Morton had each been shot 11 times. (Interestingly, Tom O'Folliard (Balthazar Getty, 15, playing a guy who was really 31), Jim French (Alan Ruck) and Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater), who are only in the sequel, were among those 11.) The main members, those 11 I guess, were known as the "iron clad."

Among the ironclad was Fred Waite, a Chickasaw, who I guess was mashed together with the Mexican Chavez y Chavez here. In the sequel, French seems to be an amalgam of French and Henry Newton Brown. John Middleton and cousins George and Frank Coe just aren't here at all. The big problem this film has is that of the characters we have, only Billy was actually present for their assassination of Sheriff Brady. (Which happened before the shootout with Buckshot Roberts.)

The Sand Creek Masscare Chavez talks about, actually happened back in 1864, some 22 years before he says. And, Murphy had nothing to do with it. It was Union soldiers under Lieutenant George S. Eayre and General John M. Chivington. Also, it was Cheyenne, while Chavez seems to be Navajo. (Phillips, by the way, is about 1/8 Cherokee.)

(Now, I hadn't watched the original Young Guns in quite a while. I'd seen Young Guns II more times. The music here, not to mention the main lineup of young men, was quite deliberately ripped off by the TV show Young Riders. I recently watched the pilot episode of that show and it's basically a less R-rated version of this, with even more historical inaccuracy.)

Enough about the history; let's just be clear, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in Young Guns. What this film was, though, was an injection of new blood into a genre that wasn't even getting old anymore. It was basically deceased.

(This wasn't the first time. Clint Eastwood was only 34 when he starred in Sergio Leone's first Western, Fistfull of Dollars, not quite as young as these guys, but much younger than the aging Western stars.)

Enough about the history? That doesn't sound like me.

The youth culture of the 1980s would jump onto everything. Estevez had already starred in two films based on S.E. Hinton's novels, and was in both the teen-centric The Breakfast Club and 20s-centric St. Elmo's Fire, not to mention the bank robbery film Wisdom. Kiefer Sutherland had played a good teen villain in Stand by Me and The Lost Boys. Lou Diamond Phillips had made a name for himself in La Bamba and Stand and Deliver. Charlie Sheen had notable parts in Lucas, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Platoon. Casey Siemaszko had parts in Back to the Future and Stand by Me and Three O'Clock High. Christian Slater (in the sequel) has notable roles in The Legend of Billie Jean, Heathers, Gleaming the Cube, and his Pump Up the Volume was in theaters just three weeks after Young Guns II. There was a whole lot of popular teen film stars here.

There was more to it, as well. Two years before Young Guns, you had a war movie (sort of) in Iron Eagle (and it's sequel would be out just a few months after Young Guns. Just a week before Young Guns, you had the similarly plotted The Rescue. Meanwhile, you've got Die Hard in theaters, and we've had our third Rambo movie, four Rocky films, and so many other films (e.g Commando) and franchises that deal in singular males or small groups (Lethal Weapon just the previous year, for example) fighting off larger forces. We love underdogs, and here we're manufacturing more.

The regulators were not so outnumbered in reality, but Hollywood doesn't care. It makes a better story when there are a handful of men surrounded, and the military is called in against them. In reality, there were a bunch of regulators, including Scurlock and Bowdre, in the Ellis Store with about 20 Mexicans (led by a woman, no less) on their side positioned around the town. And, holed up in the McSween House (where they all are in the movie) were McSween and his wife, Billy, Chavez, the here-absent Brown, French and O'Folliard, as well as a dozen Mexicans. The army did get involved, but it doesn't sound like they were too involved in the fight. Their arrival got the regulators to break position and then the McSween House was set alight. Billy didn't make that long-distance shot at Charlie Crawford; that was done from 500 yards by Doc Scurlock's father-in-law, who was not Chinese because Doc's wife was hispanic. Billy didn't kill Murphy; Murphy wasn't even in Lincoln at the time of the five-day "Battle of Lincoln" that ended the Lincoln County War.

The PALS gravemarker came because of a flood around the turn of the century that also washed away the bones. The marker I just went to see this past week is not the original and if it was Billy that Garrett killed at Fort Sumner, his bones are not in that location either.

Now, on with some more "history"--Young Guns II.

Since we're dealing in history, it's interesting to note that in 1877, two years before the start of this film, Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) (who was really known as "Dirty Dave" but since the first film had "Dirty Steve" I guess that seemed repetitive) was tracked by Wyatt Earp. He had also played cards with Doc Holliday and would be captured by Bat Masterson... who I seem to have missed in all these Westerns, though I know he was in a few. And, Rudabaugh may have joined up with the Clanton gang after the events of this film, meaning he could have been involved in the assassination of Morgan Earp.

At the Autry Museum near here, they've got some of Pat Garrett's belongings on display.

Pat Garrett certainly knew Billy, though I don't know if he ever rode with him like at start of this film. But, the betrayal story is more interesting than simple opportunism. Young Guns II offers us Garrett choosing to be a legend. He not only takes the offer of Sheriff but takes a reporter along to write the story of his pursuit of Billy the Kid.

What Young Guns II really offers is Billy the Kid really becoming an outlaw. Choosing to be an outlaw. The Lincoln County War is over. Most of the killing here is unjustified. But, Billy and company are fun. They do drugs (in the first film), they visit a brothel (in the sequel), and they dance (in the original)... Recall that nice crosscut in Titanic from the Irish party to the boring upper class after-dinner talk. We love ourselves some lower-class (here READ: outlaw) partying, and we love ourselves some rebels. But, the rebellion already happened. This Western is actually a strange one (and the only sequel I bothered with this month) in that it shows us what happened next. What happened next isn't often that interesting. Recall the exchange in Stand by Me--after Gordie tells his Lard Ass Hogan story, Teddy wants to know what happened next. But, the story's over. That's both the best part and the worst part of stories--they are finite. When they stories come from reality, though, and characters keep going...

We get the slow death of a gang and Billy's realization that he led these men to their deaths. And, for what? Because, as he tells Scurlock, in Mexico he'd just be another gringo.

My final thought on both Young Guns films: where's the damn scarf? Billy the Kid quite famously loved to wear brightly colored scarves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

if it doesn't fit, make alterations

Strange jump in time, from The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1976 to Silverado in 1985. It's not that there were no Westerns released then--there were a lot. Nothing too... big, though. I considered combing through the ones during those years and find a few (because my month of Westerns needed even more titles to it), but then I figured I could let the Vietnam-era Westerns be left behind and move into the Reagan-era, see what that gave us. Extra benefit, we're into Westerns that I saw in the theater now, actually a few past. I'd seen The Man from Snowy River, Urban Cowboy, The Gambler, The Legend of Lone Ranger, Pale Rider...

My first opportunity this month to deal in box office. Yay.

Silverado came out the same weekend as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Explorers. Separately, I would imagine each of those being films we saw opening weekend, but with all three, I'm not sure. A week before was Back to the Future and The Emerald Forest which I know I also saw in the theater. The week before that was Pale Rider and St. Elmo's Fire, the week before that Cocoon. The weekend after Silverado would be E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (and Day of the Dead and The Legend of Billie Jean but I wouldn't see those in the theater). Rambo: First Blood Part II was in its 8th week, The Goonies in its 6th, Fletch in its 7th. That's a lot of movies in the theaters over a couple months.

Silverado offers us a West in which men pulls guns over just about anything--Paden (Kevin Kline) shot a man who was riding his horse, which seems sort of justified for the West (we hear later that killing cattle is a hanging offense round these parts), but then he also shoots a guy who has his hat, which seems, well, not so justified. Yet, he's one of our good guys.

There's nothing too original about the story of Silverado--is there ever anything too original about any Western? But, director (and cowriter) Lawrence Kasdan puts some serious energy into the setpieces that makes this film far more fun than many another Western. Roger Ebert, in his review writes--and it's a great review all the way through, certainly worth a read--quite aptly:

Too many Westerns in the last 15 years have been elegies to a dead past, played out by actors remembering the cowboys roles of their youth... "Silverado" contains a group of talented young actors (Scott Glenn, the oldest, is in his 40s), and this is not their last Western but, in many cases, their first.

Leone may have reinvigorated the Western with his Dollars trilogy, but he didn't resurrect it. I remember Pale Rider feeling like an echo of that trilogy rather than something new. Silverado feels like something new. It's not that new, as I already pointed out, but it feels new. It makes the Western setting feel like something that isn't already dead. Ebert writes, "if there is any nostalgia connected to this film, it will be found in our hearts and not in the characters on the screen." And, really, that is the key to the Western (or any genre). Familiarity and expectation. We come in for something and we get the thing we want. And, we have a good time. The details make it interesting, but it's the familiar details that get us in the seats.

The good guys are not so good as they once were... Actually, that's a weird thing to say at this point. The good guys have not been so good this entire time. I think I started into the Western about a decade late to really get the black hat/white hat obviousness, just like I mostly missed the Cowboys and Indians stereotype. Stagecoach had a remnant of the savage Indian to it, and The Searchers required its audience to assume, as Ethan did, that being among the Indians was a bad thing, but then it deconstructed that assumption, and for a while, Westerns mostly ignored the Natives in favor of conflicts among the settlers. And, those conflicts brought us good men that weren't all good and bad men that weren't all bad. Take 3:10 to Yuma for example, either the original or the remake--Wade is not an evil man, he just happens to murder and steal from time to time. The remake even plays up his second as a crazier, more trigger-happy contrast. In Warlock and Gunfight at the O.K Corral, we saw the law in the form of gunfighters who made more trouble than they solved. This isn't a new thing in the Western at all. Standing out from the black/white morality used to seem like an exception. Now it's the norm.

(Sidenote: at the dance before McKendrick's men show up to make trouble, there's a young girl dancing with a stick horse with nice big wheels at the end of the stick opposite the horse's head. And, I was reminded of a stick horse I had as a kid. I also had a Coonskin cap, and an Indian vest I picked up on a camping trip to Yellowstone, and there were toy pistols and cowboy boots. Westerns were right up there with Star Wars and superheroes for me as a kid. Ebert's review of Silverado, referenced above, begins with an anecdote about coming out of the theater after watching two Westerns and he and his friends would imagine themselves as the characters. I didn't grow up in a small enough town or stereotypical 1950s America, so I didn't go to movies with just friends that young, but I certainly imagined myself as the great characters. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Superman...

I was not just embodying film characters when it came time to play at home but identifying with them in the dark of the movie theater. People who didn't like movies--they confused me, growing up. I just didn't get it. (Don't much get it when my kids don't want to see movies as often as I do these days, either.)

Movies have been a constant in my life. Westerns have been a constant in movies. We're all twisted up together.)

It's interesting, coming so late in the Cold War, that Silverado has so many parties involved in its central conflict(s). We're beyond Vietnam now and it's like we don't even know who the enemy is anymore. And, we're not united on how to fight the enemy either. But, in the end, it still comes down to a series of standoffs and shootouts because that's how we like it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

they were decently treated, they were decently fed and then they were decently shot

Clint Eastwood once again (directing as well as starring)--The Outlaw Josey Wales.

By the time the opening credits come to Eastwood's director credit, we've seen the titular Josey's wife and son murdered by Union soldiers and Josey join up with Confederate guerrillas. We've seen more war footage already than in the entire Civil War section of How the West Was Won, and just barely over ten minutes in, the guerrillas are surrendering. But, not Josey. He stays right where he is and says, "This isn't what happened last week! Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn't fair! He didn't get out of the cock-a-doodie car!" Sorry, wrong film. More like, they just cheated us, we lost the war and have to be one country again.

The cheating follows, actually--the massacre of the surrendered guerrillas...

And, the Western hinges on the Civil War once again. And, it's a sore subject in this country in the present. As Josey tells Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), "You know there ain't no forgettin'." Debate about the Confederate flag and its public display after a shooting last week, in case you're reading this some time in the future. It's not just this one genre of film that keeps returning and returning to the Civil War. Race relations, North/South relations, Republican/Democrat relations--this keeps coming back to the Civil War, a nation divided... Last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stewart had a powerful line--

I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a gaping racial wound that will not heal yet we pretend doesn't exist.

The bigger problem is that there's more to it than race. The South was built up on pride and aristocracy, the plantation-dwelling elite living off the labor of their slaves and not wanting to be told what to do by politicians off in Washington. Josey's rage here begins with the murder of his wife and son but it plays as a sort of metaphor for the entire war, the entire South's anger and frustration over losing their way of life. However reprehensible their way of life may have been, built as it was on slavery, it was still their way of life and the Union destroyed that way of life. Destroyed their economy. Destroyed their identity. Of course there was rage. I'm reminded of a line from John Wilkes Booth in the stage musical Assassins--"What I did was kill the man who killed my country." Whether that country was the Confederacy or the United States of America, it had been torn apart and would need rebuilding. Forcing secessionists back into the fold may result in a singular nation again, but it will also keep all the hurt feelings around. The wound will remain to fester--as with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and its sequels decades later and decades later again. The ghosts of the rebellion would be passed on to generation to generation and this country would remain a nation split in half, held together by the sheer will of the federal government, much to the chagrin of a good portion of its people. And, there would always be those who don't want to bow to power.

And, there are those who hold onto outdated values that have no place outside the plantation... but the race issue--that's not related to this film.

(Even though, the novel on which it is based was written by a guy who was in the Klan. And, who (probably) wrote George Wallace's infamous "segregation forever" speech. "Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us, and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South." A line from Wallace's speech that could easily have come from the likes of William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson (John Russell) as he led his Confederate guerrillas.)

But war--a nation torn apart--that falls right into this film's wheelhouse. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2011, Eastwood says (specifically regarding his film J..Edgar, but it easily segues into talk of Josey Wales),

Society is at odds with itself... They want law and order but... I was always intrigued by this guy [J. Edgar Hoover] who was frustrated by not being able to solve problems due to the obstacles put up by society itself--by the bureaucracy in society...

The law cannot always do its job, certainly. But, the law can also go too far. Here, for example, Josey is only an "outlaw" because he didn't surrender. Sure, yeah, he then killed the men doing the massacre that followed, but can you fault him for that? Similarly, once he has been branded an outlaw, can he be faulted for defensive kills that follow? Back a man into a corner and he will fight back.

Eastwood calls this film an anti-war film. "I saw the parallels to the modern day at the time," he says. "Everybody gets tired of it, but it never ends. A war is a horrible thing, but it's also a unifier of countries." Regardless of where those in the Confederate States stood when the Civil War began, for example, four years of war would pull them together, I would think. After Sherman's March, for instance, I would imagine a very unified South, hurt and angry and bent on a revenge it barely had the manpower to enact anymore.

That Josey keeps having to defend himself (and barely seems the offender) suggests an interesting angle, especially since he was with the Confederacy. Or maybe it's just the usual romanticization of the outlaw, regardless of how or why he became an outlaw. But, then Josey collects his company, and one sees the kind or brotherhood you might see within the war. In that Wall Street Journal article, Eastwood references "the urgency and the camaraderie, and the unifying" in war. "But," he says, "that's a sad statement on mankind, if that's what it takes." Josey joined up with those guerrillas out of anger and rage. He's building his company now--Lone Watie and Little Moonlight (Geraldine Kearns) so far--out of something a little better, the need for brotherhood and support, and help with survival itself. It seems more noble.

The outlaw is more noble than the soldier. He tells Ten Bears (Will Sampson), "I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another."

always like to keep my audience riveted

I could keep watching Westerns for a lot longer than the next ten days. Not because I have fallen in love with the genre though I do think of it a little differently than I used to; after watching far too many Westerns as a kid, it became a genre I tend to avoid. The reason I could keep watching them is that while I tried to reduce the list of notable Westerns to 32 films, I ended up with far more, hence a few days with more than one film, and I have actually added a few more as I've been going. Today was supposed to have two films, but I have opted out of one of them--High Plains Drifter--because, well...

(A story:

Car broke down in Arizona yesterday. We were supposed to be home last night, but had to wait until this morning to learn the fate of the car...

No, let's make this interesting.

This morning, I awoke to learn that my trusty steed Saturn had died. With no mount to get us out of the dusty town of Kingman, Arizona, we sought a new ride. We lamented the loss of poor Saturn, for she had carried us quite far over the years. But, we moved on.

A problem arose. With no hard currency, we had but a line of credit in that Western town. And, a certain dealer in "horses"--by the name of Enterprise--didn't know me from Johnny Ringo (and certainly wouldn't have offered up a mount for Ringo to borrow anyway) and demanded something called a "major credit card" for an outsider like myself. Another horse dealer--by the trade name of Avis--said an outsider like me would be welcome as all get out to borrow a "regular" ride, but they had only Mustangs and F150s (whatever those are).

We strangers to Kingman's folk eventually found ourselves a moving wagon--from a man with the strange name of You Haul--to get ourselves even farther West, home to California.)

It was a tiring roadtrip, and we returned without a car. Because of that, I decided to just go with one of my two movies for today--Blazing Saddles--because I needed some comedy.

It's interesting, though, how readily the plot here fits with other Westerns. Wright's (1975) classical plot... though it occurs to me that Wright doesn't deal much in the serious business interests that get involved in some of these stories. The story of the Lincoln County War, for example, all the way through to the death of Billy the Kid, the involvement of the businessmen known as "The House" sets up a moneyed interest that is bigger than just Cattlemen (which Wright does mention) or railroad tycoons. The real opposition in the West was between those who wanted to live there, those who wanted to work there, and those who wanted to own the other two. The setup for this film involves railroad tycoons wanting to ruin a town.

In a flashback, we get a wagon train and natives. In the present, we've got a band of "Cowboys" messing with the town and a new Sheriff who (thinks he's) there to make the place safer. Bits of the professional plot in Bart and the former Waco Kid.

(One interesting aspect to the roadtrip over the last few days is a sense of just how big and open the West is. I'd imagine, as I was driving along, being on a horse traveling at a much slower pace. Come over a hill and see a (relatively) flat expanse off to the horizon and what do you do? Turn back the direction from whence you've come? Or just keep on riding and hope there's something out there, some opportunity? There are some lonely expanses out there. The desert around Meteor Crater, for example. And, some very pleasant locales as well. That valley running through Lincoln County, for example, the forest around Flagstaff and Walnut Creek, the white sands northwest of Las Cruces...

There are some rather nice locations that you're not even allowed to photograph... a concept very strange to me. So, I absolutely did not take pictures of things like this:

Well, there was no sign specifically saying I couldn't photograph that one.)

The end of this film, with the Western brawl spreading into another film set, reminds me of Westworld. The ridiculousness of it is, well, ridiculous, but also speaks to the influence of a) the Western on the rest of Hollywood, b) the rest of Hollywood on the Western, and c) the Western on the world... or at least on American culture. Everything gets beat up by the Western.

Monday, June 22, 2015

sold out to the santa fe ring

Today, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

(But first, a story:

Meant to be home in Los Angeles tonight. Stuck in Arizona instead. Car trouble. Up until the car trouble, today was going pretty well, though. We stopped off at Meteor Crater--

--and hiked down into Walnut Canyon--

--and that was before lunch. Car was making noise and I figured I'd get back to LA tonight, get it looked at in the morning. But, the car had other plans. Instead, we are still in Arizona, about 30 yards from this:

And, really that's all you need to know about that.)

That this film begins with old man Pat Garrett getting gunned down and, plotwise, is much the same as the later Young Guns II makes for a nice echo of that later film, starting, as it does, with Brushy Bill Roberts, AKA (claiming to be) old man Billy the Kid.

Immediate impression of the casting... Coburn is good as a "lawman" and Kristofferson seems good as the outlaw but both seem a bit old for their roles, by like a decade or more. (Coburn has grey hair, for Phil's sake.) Their difference in ages--I just checked--is pretty close to the reality, though. Garrett was about 9 years older than Billy and Coburn is about 8 years older than Kristofferson.

Billy also seems a little... big. He was a small-ish guy in reality, as youthful as he was young.

(Another story:

Yesterday, we went to Fort Sumner where Pat Garrett (claimed he) killed Billy the Kid. Explored one museum and briefly visited another...

Backtracking, though, I got a shot of this at a place called Fox Cave the day before, down in Lincoln County:

And I must interrupt this story to complain about what's going on in the film right now. Billy surrendered to Garrett and his men. The circumstances of his escape after being sentenced to death are famous. He killed two men with their own guns. But here, he finds a handgun hidden in the outhouse. (Interestingly, my Time-Life The Old West book on Gunfighters offers up both versions--"he shot [Bell] dead--either with Bell's own gun or, as some theorized, with a weapon a sympathizer had cached for Billy in the privy" (p. 190). That book also incluudes Billy's line to Bob Olinger, simply "Hello, Bob," before shooting him, which this film alters.) Billy's level of confidence is nice, though. After all, Garrett would later describe Billy thusly:

Those who knew him best will tell you that in his most savage and dangerous moods his face always wore a smile. He ate and laughed, drank and laughed, rode and laughed, talked and laughed, fought and laughed--and killed and laughed.

I've got to wonder about the money in the shotgun thing. They use that in Young Guns II also, and I don't know where it comes from.

Back to the story. Some shots from the museum:

Jesus Silva is buried near Billy. This is his grave:

Billy's hat is too big, and where's his scarf? Just sayin'

Some more photos:

These two items are from the room at the Maxwell house--which was a wood house, like we see in this film (but still, out on open land instead of part of a close collection of buildings--

--and not the adobe-style thing we saw in The Left Handed Gun or will see in Young Guns II--where Billy was shot by Garrett.

The business interests that helped fuel the Lincoln County War--the events of which came before the events depicted here (the first Young Guns covers the War--come into play with extra money for Pat nearly 40 minutes into the movie. While their inclusion is a nice nod to the history, it seems like a sidenote here.

The first museum had a replica of Billt's grave(s):

The real gravesite was a good 5 miles away--

Bob Dylan's character seems a little Mary Sue-ish. His songs on the soundtrack here are great--especially "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"--but his presence onscreen seems a little distracting.

--and the grave is well protected--

--because it has been stolen a few times, as this barely readable sign attests:

Also (I already mentioned Jesus Silva) buried nearby is Joe Grant, whose gravemarker says Billy killed him--

--and Peter Maxwell--

--who was either, as the Old West book tells it, just an old rancher friend of Billy's who Garrett happened to go to see while searching for Billy or, as the documentary at the museum in Fort Sumner puts it, specifically called for Garrett because he (Peter) didn't like Billy for his (Peter's) sister Paulita. Paulita was (probably) the reason Billy didn't just leave the state altogether after his escape.)

...

I admit I was a bit rambly yesterday, starting into a topic--whether or not Western is really a genre unto itself--too complicated for my tired mind at the end of a long day. The one benefit of the car trouble today is the movie is on when I am more awake. And, I find myself thinking about the story of Billy the Kid generally, and specifically the story of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Regarding the first, why his story sticks with us, why it inspires musicians like Bob Dylan or Jon Bon Jovi (who did the soundtracks for Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and Young Guns II, respectively), why it inspires films like these, why we can keep coming back to it anew--it's simple enough. The story of a rebel is romantic. We like the idea of this kid who stood up for his murdered friends in the Lincoln County War. Sure, he killed lawmen when he escaped jail, but by that point, it's his own life or theirs. That's an exchange we can understand. We like outlaws. We like to romanticize outlaws further by telling and retelling the tales of them. It isn't genre-specific. We've got outlaws in cop movies, mob films, you name it. We also like the idea of being able to (re)invent yourself. Henry McCarty, William Bonney, Billy the Kid. He was what he chose to be. Similarly, Pat Garrett was a bartender, a friend of Billy's, but he reinvented himself as a lawman. Billy's notion in this film that he (BIlly) was the law when he rode for Chisum is an intriguing one, especially since he later in this film shoots three of Chisum's men when he finds them whipping a man and about to rape a woman. (He's not very nice, in that he leaves the woman there alone after the man dies.) The Lincoln County War is where Billy made his name as an outlaw but he was fighting against rich men who owned a good portion of New Mexico and controlled most of what went on there and would use force to attempt control over the rest. Fighting against the Powers That Be, especially moneyed interests that wielded too much, and often deadly, power--that is heroic in an American story.

(Speaking of Chisum, I got a shot of this statue of him in Roswell:

Didn't expect that to be there. Wasn't even in Roswell for Western-related stuff. But there it was.)

Bob Dylan, who here plays a character who simply calls himself Alias, was famous for making up stories about his life--just watch I'm Not Here for some examples.

My thesis, on which I start real work once I'm home this week, will deal a great deal with the idea of (re)inventing oneself, specifically through the written word. But, generally, the idea that we can choose to be who we want to be is an appealing notion. Backtracking to before the question of whether or not the Western is a genre at all rather than just a collection of settings and tropes--

Wait, is that all a genre is? We'll get to that as the month goes on, but not today.

--think about the Western like this: The Western is America reinventing itself by rewriting its own history. In these last few days, I saw a southwestern desert that includes a whole lot of green, even when it is dry, even as the year cycles into summer, but the Western almost always offers up a desert full of browns and yellows, maybe some reds in the stone. It offers up a lifeless place that we--America--conquered and turned into something better. So much of the southwest is still so empty, though. Untamed. The Western tells us that we can tame it, though. It might take men as ruthless as Pat Garrett here, or Ethan Edwards or Shane or Wyatt Earp (or any of his brothers), Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickock... That is also created the likes of Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy, Sundance, Jesse James, Johnny Ringo--this just shows how truly untamed it had to have been in the first place.

Nevermind, once again, the previous occupants and their portrayal as savages, when they are portrayed at all. Winning the land from the natives, taming a desert and turning it into farmland and cities, and taking down the outlaws that sprung up along the way--that is America. That is the Western.

Hell, I guess that is the genre, but I will still come back to defining it.

For now, I am enjoying this version of Pat Garrett immensely. I cannot even remember, offhand, who played Garrett in Young Guns II [EDIT: it was William Peterson], even though I've seen that movie more times than I've ever seen this one. Emilio Estevez' version of Billy is far more... fun than Kristofferson's, though. Maybe too fun, but that's a discussion for when I watch Young Guns and Young Guns II.

Final note: Pat shooting the mirror after he shoots Billy is a little on-the-nose, but I still kinda like it.