Monday, January 11, 2010

The Revenge Of The Unseen #17: The Shooting

So this week is The Revenge Of The Unseen, here at Things That Don’t Suck. For those new to the blog, The Unseen is a column I started back in August, in which I decided I’d work my way through all the DVD’s I bought blind and never got around to watching. The amount is more then you might think it is.

It’s a fun column and I enjoyed writing it, but I kept preempting it for other stuff. First Revisit Eva, then 31 Days Of Horror, and then all my dcade ending stuff. And in the meantime the two giant stacks in the corner of my writing room just keep staring at me. So this week in order to make up for lost time, and thanks to the fact that I have another giant series I'm about to start (wouldn't you like to know.) I’m doing nothing but Unseen columns for the whole week. Lets start with…

Why’d I Buy It?: Its considered by many to be the best film of a major American director, and I’m pretty sure I got it for a price that was somewhat cheaper then dirt.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: An existential western? Well shit bring the kids.

Monte Helleman is a director I find it a lot easier to admire then to actually like. Helleman makes philosophical (slow), poetic (slow), offbeat (slow) films. In theory, Helleman’s moody, existential, tone poem like character based films ought to be catnip for me. In practice it took me three separate tries before I could finally watch Two Lane Black Top all the way through.

As a result his movies aren’t the type of thing I’ll kick on casually I really need to be in the right frame of mind for a Helleman flick.

How Was It?: Well I’m not exactly sure.

While most Helleman films are naturalistic to the point of non existence, The Shooting has an odd heightened style. Its like a kabuki western, somewhere beyond arch, both in its self conscious staging and performances (Even from Oates!)

The Shooting opens with Warren Oates returning to his mining camp to find his friend dead, his brother on the lam after apparently killing a child and with only his none too bright assistant remaining. Soon a horrible bitch goddess, I’m sorry I mean woman, wanders into the camp and offers a thousand dollars to Oates to lead her across the desert to a location called Kingsley. Though she might as well have “Trouble” tattooed across her head, Oates takes the job, and a patented Helleman “wander around” begins.

Oates giving the least weathered performance I’ve ever seen him give (which still makes him tougher then 99 percent of people who have ever lived ever) but he’s joined by some utterly uninteresting actors, until Nicholson comes and gives it a swift kick in the ass. Or at least as swift a kick in the ass as Helleman’s style will allow.

Because while lord knows I respect Helleman’s artistry, the man knows how to make eighty minutes a slog. Oates, the dumb kid, and the terrible woman wander through the desert until they’re joined by Jack Nicholson (who co-wrote) who briefly enlivens things with his admirably nasty performance (The way he snarls “You’re brains are gonna fry out here.” Is a highlight) and the scene where he gets his just deserts is probably the only one in Helleman's career that can be called "electrifying" without deep sarcasm being intended. The whole thing culminates in a muddled existential climax, that is surely symbolic, but damned if I know of what.

Its one of those movies where you’re pretty sure something is happening. If only you knew what that thing was.

No comments: