After seeing the 35mm print of McCabe & Ms. Miller at the Texas Theatre (it was a truly phenomenal experience, one of the top filmgoing experiences of my life-I strongly urge anyone who has the chance to see any classic film in 35mm to take advantage of the opportunity) I've gone on a mild Western kick.
I saw Django Unchained, which I criminally skipped out on during its theatrical run. There's a lot to say about it, and happily plenty to admire about it. It really is the first time Tarantino has offered us real bad-ass male hero who can truly be rooted for (I was originally thinking the first of both sexes, but that would be disregarding The Bride from Kill Bill). Not only does Tarantino employ a more traditional protagonist, but he really is just playing by the books as far as narrative form goes. This is Tarantino's most straightforward film, an old fashioned adventure that nevertheless has plenty enough going on to cause a stir. I'm not going to get into the whole slavery/racial issue, simply because what's been said's been said and I've nothing new to add at the moment. But I would like to consider briefly Tarantino's use of violence and music. The violence here is excessive to the point of being both boring and stupid. I don't so much mean the fight scene or the dog scene, but merely the intense gunplay that goes on over the final forty minutes of the film. Tarantino's use of violence has always been wonderful because rather than exploiting it he lets scenes quietly build up through great dialogue only to have them climax in explosions of carnage (or else he randomly throws in a piece of extreme violence, like the car scene in Pulp Fiction, which is also quite effective). Here the blood flies freely but there's no real build-up. It's just pure excess, especially during the three bloody shootouts that conclude Django's revenge. No offense was taken. My concern is merely for the film's sake. I really believe it would have been a better picture had Tarantino handled the violence differently. As for the music, I generally was enthusiastic over his song choices, though there were a few times when a song would play that just seemed out of place or unnecessary (I can't recall the track, but the song playing just before Christoph Waltz meets with Kerry Washington for the first time is a good example of what I mean). However, contrary to some, I actually liked the use of Jim Croce's I Got a Name. Who would expect Tarantino to use this song during an extended riding montage featuring Django and Dr. Schultz (Waltz). The rhythm of the song is slower and more relaxed than what we expect from Tarantino, and in a way it's indicative of the shift he's taken with the film as a whole.
I also watched Bad Company, which I already wrote about.
Then I sat down for a long-delayed re-watch of The Wild Bunch on blu ray. I first saw it six years ago in 2007 when I started loving Westerns and saw everything I could get my hands on. Seeing The Wild Bunch again was a revelation. I'd always considered it to be a great movie, but now I might be lying to myself if I didn't say it was my favorite Western. In a way it's perfect that this and Once Upon a Time in the West came out in 1969, arguably the last decade of classical Western filmmaking before the Revisionists took over. Both of them, especially The Wild Bunch, represent a perfect capper to the era of Ford, Hawks, and Mann before '70s brought in a rush of new-age Westerns (McCabe & Ms. Miller, Bad Company, Little Big Man, Blazing Saddles, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, High Plains Drifter, Jeremiah Johnson especially). The Wild Bunch is a movie about old outlaws realizing their time is up-not just because their bodies are wearing thin, but because the times are changing. The fact that a car is used to drag the body of Angel around the Mexican town signifies this two-fold change: modern industry is the means to dishonor a friend. William Holden's Pike seems to see here that this is the beginning of the end for men like him and Dutch. The world is turning against them, and yet the notion of honor remains, which they see as the only thing that still counts-and which they fully realize will spell their demise.