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.

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