Sunday, March 12, 2006

McCabe & Mrs. Miller...

This dvd sat around a few days somehow projecting the feeling of a day's work in the mud. The thought of Warren Beatty's ego needs and squinty expressions alone is exhausting... toss in Vilmos Zsigmond's brown and gray cinematography and well, the enthusiasm was hovering around the 15% mark. But, we finally managed to get the disc in the player, and after some initial misgivings and murk, were lulled into its gentle, dreamy rhythms. There's a little too much Leonard Cohen in the opening act, as if Robert Altman was riding the volume knob, cranking it up every time the story starts drifting into the ethers. This passes as do the other resistances. It's a good film. It works. Though probably not for everyone.

This film works because it creates a universe we understand both physically and psychologically. Yes, we notice the obsessive commitment to evoking the era (1900's) authentically, but more importantly, as a viewer, there is an intuitive sense of knowing and belonging to this place, the town of Presbyterian Church. Like the town itself, the film evolves and grows without much rhyme or reason, and in this way becomes truly engaging. It's a good trick to get the audience to try and draw its own mental map of the setting. It sparks the visualization core of the brain, priming it to do some heavy lifting and cobbling together of the somewhat raw materials on hand.

Some people tell you that in order to be a good filmmaker you have to be a great storyteller. But in fact this good film is not such a great story, by which I mean if someone told it to you while sitting round a fire you'd go, Huh... not - Wow! On the contrary, in order to be a good filmmaker you have to forget the rules of (oral) storytelling and just start playing with the mystical elements of film - stretching bits out, leaving others on the cutting room floor, letting accidents play like intentions, and generally allowing the medium do its own magic. Few are better at this game than Altman. It is the welcomed opposite of tight, refined, streamlined storytelling of The Sopranos, which we will lazily (and happily) be watching in a few hours.


Anonymous henry said...

I think that's very well said, film is about insisting some things matter, things that would not matter in a non visual telling of the same story.

11:54 AM  

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