We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
There sure are an innordinate number of westerns on the 1001 list. Should the number of westerns not change in the next update of the list, which it could, then I am right on track. I guess that this genre is far more important than I realised.
Clocking in at around 1 hour 10 minutes Ride Lonesome is one of the shortest feature films on the 1001 film list. What’s interesting is that despite how short this film is the outcome is surprisingly fully formed. The story is fairly simple, but there is more lying underneath.
In the end, it’s a story of redemption and revenge which could have ended up feeling a bit dull if it were not for the short running length. Compared to other westerns I have seen this certainly feels a lot more subdued.
I guess that the reason this film is on the list is to give an example of a Budd Boetticher western. It has made for an interesting change of pace compared to some of the overly machismo westerns that I have seen recently and at least it had a decent ending (unlike Red River... the more I think about that the more annoyed I become).
Talking about endings, the one in Ride Lonesome is extremely satisfying. That ending shot of a ‘hanging tree’ burning with vivid red flames is the perfect way to tie together the motives of all characters once they are all finally resolved or at least revealed to one another.
What has happened to Johnny Depp’s career? I had forgotten just how good he could be in a movie and now it saddens me to think that now he makes films like Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger. Still, it is good to know there are films out there like Dead Man which prove the acting chops of Johnny Depp.
Watching Dead Man directly after Ride Lonesome has given me a great deal of perspective regarding the western genre. As I’ve mentioned before (I think when I was watching Little Big Man) I tend to prefer the revisionist style western over the more traditional. One reason being that the depictions of native Americans and women tends to make me feel more uncomfortable. I think that this film goes so beyond revisionist western that it comes out in a sub-genre of its own.
I have seen Dead Man described as one of many different sub-genres of western. Is it an “acid western”, “weird western” or is it a “psychedelic western” as suggested by the director? It’s hard to say really as all three seem to cross over into each other’s territories. Needless to say this is unlike any western film but I have ever seen.
One thing I do know is how well this film depicts native Americans when compared to the “wife trading savages” of Ride Lonesome. The worst people that we see are the white man with particular notice being paid to hired gun Cole Wilson who we see committing acts of cannibalism and stepping on a dead man’s head so hard that the skull cracks and the brains ooze out (yuck).
Also the people you see show up in this film is astonishing. Not only does it boast Robert Mitchum in his final movie role but also John Hurt, Alfred Molina, Iggy Pop and Gabriel Byrne. The real stars of this film, however, are Lance Hendrickson and Gary Farmer. The former as the bloodthirsty Cole Wilson and the latter as Nobody, the native American who helps Johnny Depp’s character out.
Another star of the show is the score written by rock legend Neil Young. His shredding electric guitar is as much of the character in this film as anyone else. It is what sets this western apart from any other that I have ever seen.
The biggest difference between Dead Man and most (traditional) westerns that I have seen is the choice of destination. Films like a Ride Lonesome, Red River and High Plains Drifter end with the idea of redemption, a debt paid or at least some sort of salvation. Here the destination is death. It’s highlighted really early on by the creepy train firemen that William Blake’s journey west will end in death. The bullet that he receives next was heart on his first night pretty much secures that prophecy and the rest of the film is his journey to “that place where the sea meets the sky”.
Despite this Dead Man doesn’t take itself that seriously. There were times when I found myself laughing out loud; usually at something said by William Blake or Nobody. It made for a good breaks in the tension.
It just goes to prove how far you can stretch the definition of western. Films like this keep the almost extinct genre alive, which can only be a good thing.