Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kind of a Movie Review

I saw the new Coen brothers version of "True Grit" on the big screen. While viewing it, I was reminded that on the big screen is the only way to watch such a flick with much outdoor photography.

Stray thoughts:
-This version is actually more like the 1969 Henry Hathaway/John Wayne original than advertised, with many scenes and much dialogue that's virtually the same.
-The photography is this version is fine. In the original it was a tad better.
-The Epilogue in the new version is a mistake-- in part because the older depiction of Mattie, the girl at the center of the story, looks nothing like the 14-year old actress we've been watching. The original version of the film might be edged out in several respects by the new version-- but has a better, classic ending, with the line, "Come and see an old fat man some time!" Hard to top that.
-Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn is called "fat" throughout the film, but he's kind of a skinny fat man. Think of a skinny Santa Claus at a shopping mall. Curiously, the character who looks fat is Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger, who should be lean for lean times. It's disconcerting to see a character who should be handsome, to give the proper edge to the interaction between he and Mattie, and notice in every scene the character is in his double chin. He's been supposedly tracking an outlaw across the West, yet apparently eating very well! Uh, Matt, might want to push yourself away from those movie set buffets next time out.
-My feeling at the end of the Coen's flick, was that it was a very good film, but it left me wanting more. They hinted at how good the Western film can be-- and has been in the past on occasion. Maybe just a bit more myth would help. Isn't that what the Western is about?
-Since the 1960's we've seen the de-mythicizing, de-glamorizing of the American West-- but I'd say it's gone far enough. We're not getting historical truth, though this is what's being sold. Or, the Coen brothers work to make the West and its inhabitants look as ugly as possible. But what turned the American West and its characters into myth was the beauty of the landscapes and the riders-- Indians, cowboys, vacqueros, and such-- who moved through the landscapes. Take a look at Remington and Russell paintings some time. American cowboys, gunfighters like Bill Hickock, scouts like Buffalo Bill, and even soldiers like George Custer, used the freedom of the West to create a unique and quite flamboyant costume. The costume helped create the myth-- it did so not because it was ugly to look at! The West was populated by young people. Some of them were quite rough-looking (see Billy the Kid), but most took pride in "cleaning up" when they got off the trail. No doubt there were smelly buffalo hunter types in the West, but no doubt also they stood out. The new "True Grit" is rather skewed because everybody is unpleasant to look at. Okay, Coens-- you've made your point. Your cynicism about people prevents you from creating a better work, in this viewer's humble opinion. You have a few gorgeous vistas in the film, but leave this moviegoer wanting more.
-In a related point: Why all the old people everywhere? Sorry, but the West wasn't settled by 70 year-olds. It was too tough for that. The town sheriff near the beginning, for instance, is impossible, as are many others. This was new territory for those who went into it. It was hard land even to get to, by horse or wagon. Older people didn't survive, or stayed home. A small but crucial point. The American West of the second half of the 19th century happened during the Romantic era. Those who lived in it were in many respects Byronesque. Poetry and myth-- which is as historical anyway as what recent moviemakers are giving us, and more fun.

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