The Essentials, continued…

March 14, 2007 at 11:15 pm (celebrities, movies)

I’ve just watched Brokeback Mountain (2005) for the first time—I couldn’t stand to watch it the first time around; there was just too much hype around it. I myself almost started laughing when I heard the line “I wish I knew how to quit you.” But with some critical distance, I found it to be quite good. Ang Lee was the perfect director for this film—his combination of sweeping, still landscapes and almost unbearable restraint really fed into the frustration of the characters at their situation, while surrounded by such unwaivering beauty.

This inspires me to write about my next two “essentials” (see my post here explaining the thought process).

 

The Searchers (1956)

Without a doubt, John Ford’s finest film. This film revises the western genre as it begins to question what was previously taken for granted; representations of the ‘good’ settlers versus the ‘bad’ Indians. But throughout his career as a director, Ford always blends the two—no one is completely right or wrong, and in the end the complexity is powerful. John Wayne is an aging cowboy, Ethan, returning to his family after a life of wandering and a stint in the Confederate Army. His unrequited love for his brother’s wife leaves him obsessed when a band of raiding Comanches kills her and his brother, taking their two daughters. For the next four years he tirelessly wanders the desert searching for his youngest niece, Debbie—but as the search progresses we find more and more that Ethan is less interested in saving her than he is in making sure that her new life as an assimilated Comanche ends—one way or another. When he at last returns her to her remaining family, he can’t bear to enter the family space—like it or not, John Wayne isn’t the hero here—his racism overwhelms him, and he slowly backs away.

 

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954)

As a director, Akira Kurosawa looked for ways to translate the Japanese traditions of honor to film—and he found it in the American western. Sadly, over the years the film has succumbed to a horde of editors who balked at the original nearly three hour and 30 minute run time, but thankfully it has been restored almost to its original state. But to watch this film, you would never sense the length; the narrative is remarkably efficient, as farmers seek out rogue samurai to defend their village from impending marauders. They soon find Takashi Shimura, one of Kurosawa’s stock players, and the search progresses until enough samurai (including the spectacular Toshirô Mifune) are found to defend the village. The quiet honor of these men, once of a noble class (until there way of life was abolished by Emperor Meiji as an attempt to modernize the country) take payment in rice, and they earn it. There’s simply not enough room here to espouse the marvel that is this film—just watch it!

 

That’s all for now—stay tuned for future installments of the essentials.

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