Tag Archives: clint eastwood

XL Popcorn – High Plains Drifter / The Marriage of Maria Braun

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.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: High Plains Drifter
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1973
Country: USA

Welcome to the world of the ‘weird west’. I think that I have been getting a real education when it comes to the world of the western movie and High Plains Drifter has only added to it. What makes for a ‘weird west’ film? Well, just add supernatural elements to a western movie and that’s about it.

The score alone makes this feel like a weird western movie. Dee Roberts managed to create a western score like I have never heard before. It’s eerie and unsettling, which only heightens the uncertainty of Clint Eastwood’s nameless character.

Speaking of his character – he is an awful man. One of the first things he does is to rape a woman just because she was a bit rude to him. He plays it off like she wanted it and despite her cries for justice the rest of the town refuse to hear her out as they don’t see it as being worth her while. As she says, he did it in broad daylight.

The thing is… that’s the point of it all. Here is a stranger rolling into town and the townsfolk are so beyond saving that they won’t save one of their own from being raped. We later find out in the past that they stood idly by and watched as their marshall was bullwhipped to death. The woman in question being one of the people that stood and watched.

Over the course of the film we see Clint Eastwood’s stranger pretty much dismantle this entire town financially, psychologically and (eventually) physically. Who he is… depends on the version you watch. If you watch it in English it is clear that he is the spirit of the marshall who has come back to take vengeance. In foreign versions he’s the brother. I like the idea that he is a troubled spirit because it makes his ridiculously amazing gunslinging make a lick of sense.

The whole film started out being inspired by the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese where a woman was stabbed to death in plain daylight and no onlookers did anything to help her. As allegories go it’s a pretty powerful reference. The thing that I really disliked in this film, however, is how the women were treated. If the whole thing was inspired by the murder of this woman then why are all the women in this town treated worse than cattle?

Still, as a different kind of western this was an entertaining watch.

Title: The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

The tagline for the 1946 film Gilda is “There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!” and I never quite thought that it fit that film. I would, however, say it was a line that could be applied to Maria Braun.

This is one of those films that I have been waiting to see for a very long time based on the description in the 1001 book. The thing is, there is a bit of a major mistake in their description. It says in the book that she accidentally kills an American soldier who tries to rape her… but she was in a relationship with him and it was full consent. It just happens that the husband she thought was dead catches them about to have sex and she wants to defend her husband from her lover. It’s an important plot point and it’s weird way to frame that moment in the book.

Despite that mistake I thought this was a great film and it’s all because of Maria Braun. We start off in 1943 on her wedding day as the building she gets married in is bombed by Allied planes. After a day and a night her husband goes off to way, presumed dead. Through various situations that occur she never gets a chance to truly be live a married life with her husband for the next decade. I would go into it, but spoilers.

The role of Maria Braun has to be one of the great cinematic roles created for a woman. It’s also an incredible tightrope for actress to have to walk. At all times Braun has to remain sympathetic, but over the course of the film we see the previously idealistic woman have to harden against life in post-WWII Germany. As she says in the film, “it’s not a good time for feelings”. She does all this whilst remaining truly faithful to her husband of two days. It’s an astonishing show of love.

By the end of the film she is but a cynical shade of the woman that we previously got to know and it is heartbreaking. It is a true joy to watch Hanna Schygulla inhabit the role with charm, wit and astonishing self-confidence.

Other than a tour de force performance from Schygulla, the thing that keeps this film going is a rollercoaster of emotional twists and turns in the script. A lot of hands touched the script, but the film feels very much the work of one vision. It’s not the first film to depict a woman taking the reins in a post-war country in order to survive and ‘create [her] own miracles’ but it is certainly one of the finer examples of this story.

Just to think that before Ali: Fear Eats the Soul I had never seen a film by Rainer Fassbinder and now I have seen two that I would rank as 9/10s. I still have two of them left to cover from the book. I do wonder if they will be able to come close to the two I have already seen.

Progress: 550/1007

XL Popcorn – The Outlaw Josey Wales / Real Life

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1976
Country: USA

Well it is official – I’ve lost count of the films I’ve seen since being off with a malfunctioning right arm. No matter, my best estimate is that by the end of the week I would have seen 50+ (or 1 in 20 of the movies on the list). Before I started properly looking at this list I had never seen many westerns. Like any child the films I was exposed to depend a lot on upbringing, which explains my love of good period dramas and old black and white movies. I have since been trying to properly educate myself. For example, I now know the difference between a traditional western and a revisionist western. The Outlaw Josey Wales falls squarely in the latter camp.

The more I watch westerns, the more I realise just how varied a genre it is. Similarly, I’ve come to respect the sheer talent that is Clint Eastwood. One of the first films I saw him in was Gran Torino, which meant that I got the impression of him being this grizzled old man. Now I have seen a sizeable chunk of his ouvre I can get what he is such an icon. Having seen The Outlaw Josey Wales I think I might have seen him in one of his defining roles (all I have left and to see of his main roles would be Dirty Harry).

Of all the Clint Eastwood western roles this is the one that I recognized most from other people’s pastiches. For example the character of Sparks Nevada from my favourite podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour feels very much like Josey Wales in space if he were a lawman. From the spitting of tobacco (onto live animals… ew), the ridiculously quick drawing of weapons and the repeated use of “I reckon” – this man is the ultimate western character.

What I really liked about this film was his interaction with supporting characters. Gone are the days of cowboys and Indians from the fifties, but now it is the white man who is the bad guy. Like in Little Big Man this film depicts the native Americans as the ultimate victim and has stronger female characters than the more typical floating love interests of old (of course there are some exceptions to that rule e.g. Johnny Guitar). There was a bit where I expected an old fashioned battle between the white man and the native American, but they subverted expectation extremely well. To the point where the whole message of the film is that you can be reasonable with native Americans, but not with the white man. Quite a turnaround really.

This film was made at a time when the western was dying out. In a few years’ time the famous flop Heaven’s Gate would come out an effectively kill the western forever. Sure, we still have westerns nowadays like Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma and Dead Man; but they’ll probably never be as mainstream as they were 30 to 60 years ago.

Title: Real Life
Director: Albert Brooks
Year: 1979
Country: USA

Nowadays the mockumentary format has been pretty much done to death. So it is hard to think of the time when it was still very much a novelty. Real Life was not the first film to use a mockumentary style, but it was one of the first to help popularise it. At the time of release this film must have felt quite weird to the average viewer. Hell, The Comeback was only 13 years ago and still people did not quite get it. Therefore going into this it is customary to point out just how ahead of its time Real Life was.

In 1973 the American channel PBS heir to a program called An American Family. It was one of those landmark series that followed her real family for seven months of their life. It became a national sensation with subjects like a marriage breaking up and a boy coming out of the closet being put out there for millions to see. When now there are hundreds of families (if not tens of thousands) who would happily go for the chance of fame it was not the same back in the seventies. We actually had privacy. The in-film purpose of Real Life is to follow up on this landmark series with their own study; the actual purpose of this film was to spoof it.

Albert Brooks made his directorial debut with this film. Where now we would see it as yet another mockumentary back then he created something very very clever. There are so many comic tropes in this film that we would now take for granted in any reality show or mockumentary. For example, there is a bit when the wife of the family wants to visit a relative in order to get some privacy from the cameras. We therefore get Albert Brooks (playing himself) pleading with her to at least allow one camera and to have her take the smaller car as the bigger one can fit more cameramen. Similarly, there is a fantastic set piece at the gynaecologist office… and I will leave the punch line out of this one.

Knowing what we know now about reality shows, which will not have been common knowledge back in the seventies, it is amazing how accurate some of the reactions have been. Granted the playing to camera made by the father is fairly obvious. However, some of the subtler things have also been captured. The fact is a lot of this feels eerily accurate and that is to the credit of Brooks.

Progress: 518/1007

Oscar Bait – Million Dollar Baby

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 81/88Title: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2004
Country: USA

As of now, the most recent winner of the Best Picture trophy at the Academy Awards is Terms of Endearment. It has been a long time coming, but finally I have gotten around to watching Million Dollar Baby. What put me off? The name.

I know it sounds like a pathetic reason, but you have to admit that as film names go it is pretty damned terrible. Also, when I was checking out the synopses online nothing really grabbed me – and this is with me actually knowing the twist in the end. Yes, thank you so much people I used to take the train to school with for ruining that emotional impact for me.

The twist is quite a known twist, but I hate people who reveal twists – so I won’t here. Needless to say, even though I knew what was coming there I was still able to feel for the characters in the scene.

With all this background I went into Million Dollar Baby expecting a ‘worthy’ Oscar bait film that would piss me off. The fact that it has Clint Eastwood everywhere did not help this assertion – nowadays I swear he just plays shades of the same grumpy, yet misunderstood, man that most people loved in Gran Torino. I don’t get that film, I just don’t.

What I DID get was how great Hilary Swank was in the titular (maybe) role of boxer Maggie Fitzpatrick. As an actress she had to do a lot in this role, including having to train up her body and gain muscle whilst being sick. It’s not one of the biggest transformations in cinema history, but that’s a lot of dedication.

I know that I am going to sound like a philistine here… but I preferred this film to Raging Bull. I mean, I find it hard to watch a film that I can’t sympathise with (my same problem with The Wrestler) so Million Dollar Baby has that stitched up.

My big question, however, is whether Million Dollar Baby deserved the award. Probably not. Hotel Rwanda and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be a lot higher on my list.