Rene Clair, Henri Cartier-Bresson

Francophilia week, with reviews of an excellent new edition of Rene Clair’s “The Italian Straw Hat” from Flicker Alley, and a collection of films by and about Henri Cartier-Bresson from Arthouse. My New York Times review is here.

197 comments to Rene Clair, Henri Cartier-Bresson

  • John M

    Thanks to Tom Brueggemann for noting Dede Allen’s passing. A groundbreaking editor who, with a handful of films–BONNIE AND CLYDE and NIGHT MOVIES among them–played around thrillingly with the rules of continuity and movement.

    Working on a project with an editor a couple years ago, we both realized quickly our mutual admiration for Allen. Whenever we’d decide to cut on movement–even or especially if it wasn’t technically continuous–we’d call it “doing a Dede.” Her best cuts were like passionate sighs.

  • Michael Dempsey

    Gregg Rickman wonders if the general public ever confused Stanley Kramer with Stanley Kubrick.

    It seems impossible to say. Today’s general public may well have forgotten or never heard of them both.

    But “Color Me Kubrick” (2005, US release 2007), which was written by Anthony Frewin and directed by Brian Cook (both former Kubrick collaborators), shows real-life Kubrick impersonator Alan Conway (John Malkovich) almost getting tripped up in one scene when, challenged to name the films he’s directed, includes “Judgment At Nuremberg” as one of his credits.

  • Joseph McBride

    Some people denigrate SPARTACUS for reasons reminiscent of the
    knocks on Kramer. I do seem to recall some uninformed people
    confusing the two filmmakers. Just as some have confused Ford and Hawks
    and Ford and Huston. Not to mention Frank Capra and Robert Capa.

  • John M

    Night MOVES, rather. Though she may have edited night movies, as well. She was young, she needed the work, etc.

  • dm494

    Blake, I’m truly glad that we agree on this, and thanks for mentioning GERTRUD and ORDET. I’m kicking myself for forgetting them.

    Mike, I haven’t seen any of the filmed operas you mention, but I do watch a lot of Broadway Theater Archive DVDs (ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE with Blythe Danner is a favorite), and you may recall that I once referred you to Peter Hall’s video of his brilliant 1981 stage production of the Oresteia trilogy. Those videos are, I think, movies only in the loosest sense–they’re shot on video by directors only concerned to record the production and the performances, and there’s nothing cinematically interesting about them. But “canned theater” comes in degrees, and I get concerned when people say that canned theater pieces like DINNER AT EIGHT or DODSWORTH, which have cinematic shape while retaining a great deal of staginess, aren’t really films. Extending this point, there’s a 1988 BBC TV version of THE MASTER BUILDER with Leo McKern and Miranda Richardson which I wouldn’t hesitate to call “canned theater”, yet the film’s director shows sensitivity to cutting and the employment of two-shots and singles–there’s a sense of cinematic technique in play which makes it wrong to think this piece of filmed theater isn’t also, to a certain extent, a legitimate movie. I also find it instructive that you cite Branagh’s Shakespeare films as examples of canned theater. On the contrary, I’d say that Branagh wrongheadedly goes out of his way to make his films “cinematic”; the visually ostentatious results aren’t canned theater, but, for someone as unsure about film style as Branagh, they’d be better if they were. (By the way, I do like Branagh’s HENRY V, and Branagh gives an entertaining, albeit un-courtier-like, performance in MUCH ADO, a film worth watching for Emma Thompson’s Beatrice alone.)

    I’d be interested in seeing the Richard Monette film you mention. His small performance in ICEMAN resonates with me.

  • Joseph McBride

    Gregg, Welles sure was “all in red” as Wolsey — as I write
    in my book on Welles’s acting career, “Welles looks truly
    dreadful in the role, heavily jowled, his eyelids drooping, his flesh
    pasty and blotched. When he first walked
    on the set in his red cardinal’s robes, Welles took note of
    the matching scarlet drapery in the chamber, and asked
    Zinnemann to delay the shooting by a few minutes. When he
    returned, he had added the final fillip to the visual conceit —
    with eye drops, he had made his pupils bloodshot. It’s a splendid
    touch that intensifies the ghastly quality of the scene.”

    And this is a filmed play!

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Some people denigrate SPARTACUS for reasons reminiscent of the knocks on Kramer.’

    I have heard denigration because Anthony Mann scene standout from rest of movie.

    Dave has identified problem with Kramer, no good style. He is making sincere movie, but it isn’t good movie because of him. Good thing in Kramer movie is actor or screenplay. I have not read that Kramer has put camera in right place, timed scene for best dramatic effect, cut together just right.

  • Joseph McBride

    Junko, definitely Kramer’s forte was not with the camera. He was more of a producer
    than a director. No one ever accused Kubrick of not knowing where to put his camera.
    What I’ve read are some negative comments about SPARTACUS being a liberal
    message movie (as if that’s bad per se and as if Kirk Douglas getting Dalton Trumbo off the blacklist was incidental).
    Those who wish Mann had continued on the film or that Kubrick had more creative
    freedom I think underrate an excellent film, first-rate in all departments. It’s no small
    achievement to take that often tacky genre and make a serious, thoughtful, and entertaining film.
    BEN-HUR is not watchable today, but SPARTACUS is.

  • nicolas saada

    Dave, my appreciation of the directors you mentioned is not a sudden twist in taste.
    I started to look at films differently when I began to write, and then direct. I found merits in films that I had overlooked. But admiring DODSWORTH or GIANT does not mean that I will undermine Ford, Ray, Lang or Fuller in favor of FRIENDLY PERSUASION or THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.
    I agree that we have had to deal with terrible “serious cinema” in the past and that we still do in the present. Pompous films by pompous directors. Kramer had his share of disasters, as well as Delbert Mann, Anthony Asquith or Richard Attenborough.
    My concern is less about reevaluing some good works by average filmmakers than for instance the sudden craze for horrendous stuff like Michel Lemoine’s erotic thrillers or Deodato’s would be snuff films. That shift in taste has brought attention to filmmmakers who just can get away with anything. As a result, many films that just look formally controlled or tamed are often slammed for being “classical” or “tedious”.
    This happened here with BRIGHT STAR to my immense discouragement. The fact that a film,of such strength and grace could suddenly be qualified as “classical”, ‘academic” just because it doesn’t have multiple cuts and hemoglobine drives me nuts.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, if the best case for SPARTACUS is that it was superior to BEN-HUR and made the world safe for more Dalton Trumbo, I would say that it is on rather shaky ground. Kind of reminds me of one of those great Stan Freberg ad slogans; “Salada Tea: it’s not ha;f bad.”

  • Joseph McBride

    Barry, kidding aside, you don’t think it’s significant that the film helped end the blacklist?

  • Barry Putterman

    Joseph, it did play a role in helping to end the blacklist, and whatever one thinks of Trumbo as a screenwriter, it should be admired for that. But it should also be kept in mind that the blacklist was crumbling on its own accord and there were other films that played a part in its demise as well. Which is to say that ultimately the blacklist would have ended at approximately the same time even if SPARTACUS had not existed. But, of course, it DOES exist.

  • Oh, I’ve missed a great thread here. Too late to add much, but I’ll just say that I’m glad Joseph McBride is back. And Barry, Sarris’s troubled musing on Andrew Stone (and wife) making ON THE BEACH is one of my favourites. The only reason I don’t tell it on a daily basis to people I meet is that nobody would understand.
    I’ve been a believer in, and defender of, Zinneman since as far back as I can remember.
    Regarding Hilary Mantel, Thomas More and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, I can recommend Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/the-men-who-made-england/7900/

  • Gregg Rickman

    Fredrik, thanks for the link. Hitchens more or less takes Mantel’s side (with the much maligned Cromwell). He correctly points out that the novel’s Cromwell is an incipient Protestant; I registered him as well as an incipient capitalist. He sees opportunities no one else does. I can’t speak for the historical Cromwell; the author of the book review in the NYRB pointed out that his surviving letters don’t reveal the novel’s Cromwell’s keen and practical intelligence.

    I am probably the only reader of Mantel’s novel who kept checking off similarities between Cromwell and another hard practical Englishman history has recorded as a villain: Al Swearengen in Milch’s DEADWOOD. Someone here on a previous thread listed the series as in their top 20 of all time as their favorite western of all time (tied with a couple of films? I don’t recall); they should definitely check out this novel. (Also he should watch THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE again, for as good as DEADWOOD is, everything Milch has to say about the ambiguous process of civilizing the west
    is already there in Ford’s masterpiece).

  • Brian Dauth

    “The Less Than directors all made some decent films, but they are often isolated works in frustrating careers full of dull stuff.”

    When I read this, I was grateful to be near my fainting couch. Mankiewicz, a director unfairly placed in LTMTE, made more than some decent films. He did not follow the path of cinematic poetry or expressionism, but expanded the concept and practice of mise en scene in his own creative and powerful way. Interestingly, JLM was a director who was admired by some of the more advanced critics, but somehow he did not survive auteurism’s transatlantic voyage.

  • Brian,
    I’ll keep trying with Mankiewicz.
    I know less about him than you do.

  • Peter Henne

    Mike, I’m glad you cited Peter Glenville’s SUMMER AND SMOKE. That film intriguingly foregrounds the made-up quality of its sets, rubs against suspension of disbelief, and just lets them be beautiful for their own sake. I could call this modernism in a minor key. And the understated performances grazing theatricality are in sync with the lingering shots taking in the quiet mysteries the stage bramble has to offer. I wouldn’t call SUMMER AND SMOKE a masterpiece, but a nice piece of work.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Stanley Kramer has at least one major contribution to cinema.

    He produced High Noon, in response to which Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo.

    For that, Kramer has my eternal gratitude.

  • Joseph McBride

    Thanks, Fredrik, I appreciate the good words. Barry, yes, the blacklist was showing signs
    of weakening in the late fifties, but Preminger and Douglas still deserve
    a lot of credit for defying those who still vehemently
    wanted to preserve it. And many blacklisted people didn’t
    get back working under their own names for years,
    and some never did. Trumbo did a lot to help colleagues
    who were blacklisted. He was a public spokesman against
    it as well, helping bring awareness of it. I found people
    in Hollywood in the seventies who still tried to claim
    there had never been a blacklist. That was the official
    studio position, because blacklisting was illegal. FBI informer Ronald
    Reagan appears in the 1976 documentary film HOLLYWOOD ON
    TRIAL to claim there was no blacklist. The filmmakers told
    me that when they showed up to film him in his office,
    they found him sitting behind his desk, fully made up,
    sitting in front of U.S. and California flags. It’s like
    Holocaust denial — it’s horrible enough having to live
    through a nightmare without then being told it never
    happened. As for Trumbo, he may have been a somewhat
    heavy-handed screenwriter, but his letters are wonderfully
    witty, acerbic, and insightful.

  • Brian Dauth

    Mike: I was just funning with you. I think all auteurists have their passions, as well as their “maybe this time I will like her” directors. If we all agreed, we could close the salon and call it a day.

  • Brian,
    Thank you!
    I keep trying to expand Mankiewicz knowledge. Recently saw “The Barefoot Contessa” for the first time in decades, and liked it very much. Good color.

  • Brian Dauth

    Mike: The photography is good in CONTESSA. I regard the film as a reverse ALL ABOUT EVE, where narrative contol is given over to the het male characters as they try to speak about/explain the woman at the center of the story. It is also one of his more pessimistic films.

  • Glenn Kenny

    Yes, it stands to reason that the photography in “Contessa” is good; it’s Jack Cardiff’s, is it not?

  • Brian Dauth

    Glenn: I should have been clearer. When I say the photography in TBC is good, I mean it works expressively with the other filmic elements Mankiewicz employs. Cardiff is a great cinematographer, but not all directors know how to use what such an artist can produce.

  • Alex Hicks

    Fredrik and Gregg,

    I haven’t read Mantel’s novel, but have viewed Moore with horror and “A Man for All Seasons” with dismay since learning some time ago that Moore was the inquisitor behind the execution by strangulation (and subsequent burning at the stake of William Tyndale, translator of over 70 percent of the King James Old Testiment and 80% of the King James New Testament, equal (according to Harold Bloom) of all but perhaps Shakespeare and Chaucer as an individual influence on the English langiuage. Does Mantel’s novel deal with Tyndale’s sorry tale?

  • Joseph McBride

    Speaking of virtues of A MAN F0R ALL SEASONS, of which there
    are many, Ted Moore’s cinematography is rich and gives you
    a solid feeling of being there. Georges Delerue’s score is also
    first-rate. It’s an uncommonly well-made film, even if
    it is for twelve-year-old intellectuals. I think the best-acted
    scene is Wendy Hiller’s angry farewell to her husband
    in his jail cell. She can’t see why he allows himself
    to be martyred, and he breaks down. It’s heartrending.
    Wendy Hiller’s Eliza Doolittle in PYGMALION is also
    a splendid performance (another filmed play).

  • Alex Hicks

    Well said. Maybe “an uncommonly well-made film…for twelve-year-old intellectuals” or “dupes,” a category of film that would comprehended a lot of interesting stuff from “Potemkin” and “Birth of a Nation” to “JFK” and who knows what.

  • Alex Hicks

    Gregg,

    What would you say to “everything Ford has to say about the ambiguous process of civilizing the west is already there in the Cliff notes on Hobbes’ LEVIATHAN, as well as in every truism about the coercion behind the law and peace growing out of the barrel of a gun”?

    Or to “there is no ‘civilizing process’ – at least no civilizing progress– in DEADWOOD: anarchy reigns when ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok gets it in the back and it’s generally downhill after that, though Seth Bulock, Doc Cochran, Calamity and company do wage a sisyphean struggle against the destructive tyrannies of both Main Street and Gilded Age monopolists, Al Swearengen and George Hearst”?

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘What would you say to “everything Ford has to say about the ambiguous process of civilizing the west is already there in the Cliff notes on Hobbes’ LEVIATHAN, as well as in every truism about the coercion behind the law and peace growing out of the barrel of a gun”?’

    Not answering for Gregg, but difference is Ford is showing something, not saying, not writing. There is Chinese motto, ‘One showing is worth thousand words.’ So Ford is showing more than Cliff notes can say.

    About truism, many great artwork is showing truism, but plain truism cannot make someone to have understanding. It is becoming meaningful with expression as artwork. That is difference.

  • Barry Putterman

    Junko, the motto over “here” is “One picture is worth a thousand words.” I hadn’t been aware that we stole that one from the Chinese. But that’s the ambiguous process of civilizing the west for you.

    Agreed, truisms should be seen (and felt) but not heard.

    Actually, the original “over hear” works wonders in many ambiguous ways, but for grammatical sticklers….

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I rewatched Clair’s first American film, The Flame of New Orleans, last night.

    One of the things that seems curious about this film is how, unlike so many other wartime emigre directors (Renoir, Ophuels leading the way), this film is so obviously collaborative, i.e., clear signs of strong input from other collaborators. The script is Norman Krasna, Joe Pasternack – always a strong influence – produced. Marlene Dietrich brought her own inherent significant self. And Rudolph Mate’s cinematography, including a couple of brilliant tracking shots amid crowds, is stand out.

    Among the leading comedic directors (Sturges, Guitry, Wilder, Edwards, Tashlin to cite a few), Clair for me has always been the hardest for me to get my brain wrapped around is his distinct contribution. That said, Flame (which is a brisk 78 minutes, raising questions of possible cuts, possibly due to censorship, despite an ending that seems to clearly violate the Production Code) offers any number of pleasures, not the least of which is a medium two shot introducing Mischa Auer and Franklin Pangborn as two dressed-up aristocrats at the same time – something not all directors could pull off.

  • Alex Hicks

    Junko,

    I think I would agree exactly with you if you were you responding to — to stick to other Ford Westerns, Clementine, Fort Apache, Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers or even Stagecoach, which are tremendously resonant for me in terms of their evocation of character, drama and social milieu and moment. I’m completely floored by Ford’s comassion for Ringo and Dallas, the powerful complexity of Capt./Lt. Col. Kirby York and Ethan Edwards, the almost everything in Clementine, the Earp’s exhilaration poised on the back legs of his tilted chair before the prospect of Clementine as companion at the church social and Ho Down, but, typically fine performances by Wayne and Stewart aside, nothing in Valance emotionally or intellectually engages me. I can discern a feast for other imagination in film’s allegorical play with other Ford films that might engross me much the way the self-reflexiveness of some lesser arguably Welles works like Shanghai and Arkadin do, but I’ve not the sort of interest in Ford that draws me in that way.

    Not that I claim to be in much good company on this one with the erratic Kael and deplorable Crowther the only kindred spirits I can find in print on this one.

  • Alex Hicks

    Oooppps! There should be a second “–” instead of a comma after Ribbon; and the “the”s shouldn’t be in there before “almost everything” and “Earp.”

  • Alex Hicks

    Double Ooopps? Oooppps! There should be a second “–” instead of a comma after Stagecoach. Time to get of the web –and see a movie!

    Anyone have for “Une Prophete” as weekend entertainment or anything at all to say about “North Face”?

  • Courtesy of our regular correspondent Dr. Savaard, here’s a link to an odd, contentious blog entry that claims a complete print of “A Star Is Born” exists and that its owner (identified by name) will never turn it over to Warner Bros. Anyone else have knowledge of this?

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, just saw your postings. My comment simply referred to LIBERTY VALANCE’s evident influence on DEADWOOD; the series appears to be in dialogue with the Ford film, building on and augmenting its argument. I admire both achievements, but liking or disliking either or both isn’t relevant to my posited relationship between the two. I gather you don’t care for this particular Ford film; to me it’s Ford’s stripped down essence (like GERTRUD) and proof of his questing intelligence (as late in life he questions much of what he had posited earlier in his career).

    I agree with Junko about Ford showing, not telling. Milch does display the progress of civilization in DEADWOOD – the community coming together to fight the plague (season one) or Hearst (season three) even as what Hearst represents is indeed the future of the west.

    I agree with most of what you like in Ford’s other films, but you’ve confused Ford and Milch – the “Ho Down” was actually a memorable episode in DEADWOOD.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, checking this page again I see I missed your query of April 22nd, 2010 at 7:33 pm. Yes, Mantel’s novel has Tyndale and his martyrdom as an off-screen (as it were) subplot. In Mantel’s version of Cromwell, he’s sympathetic to the ideas behind Protestantism; Mantel also plays up More’s sadism and duplicity in his crusade for orthodoxy. As many have commnted, she reversed the usual field, making More the villain and Cromwell the hero. The book is actually much subtler than that; “everyone has their reasons.”

    I have no idea of anyone has optioned this multiprized historical bestseller (featuring that ever popular Tudor clan), but I can easily see it making a good movie: Alan Rickman (no relation) as More, Tom Wilkinson as Cromwell? They’d probably cast younger. Cromwell was rather bulky — hey, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio!

  • Alex Hicks

    I don’t presonally discern any cleaqr influence of VALANCE on DEADWOOD: ideas and their encarnations in VALANCE seem to me so thin and social criticism so bland and simplistic that, on the one hand, VALANCE could be speculated to influence almost any Western with a shaded view of Western law and order, and, on the other hand, Milch could find little to bother taking from VALANCE. (Of course, loose parallels can be drawn; and it’s possible that Milch felt it wise to respond to the cult, if not the content, of VALANCE.)

    GERTRUDE, for me all deep feeling where VALANCE is mostly wooden historical and political allegory, seems to me a poor comparison with VALANCE. (I do manage to feel some emotion off Wanye’s role and in Stwaert’s situation at the end of VALANCE; but Valance himself strikes me as a Tex Avery character whereas Swearengen strikes me as Shakepearian one.)

    I don’t think Hearst as “the future of the west” is “progress,” and I don’t think Milch would think so. Weren’t the monopolists, along with political machines, what the Progressives would, above all, soon rise up against?

    When I use “Ho Down” in “Earp’s exhilaration poised on the back legs of his tilted chair before the prospect of Clementine as companion at the church social and Ho Down” I’m referring, pretty evidently I think, to the dance at the social, though perhaps I not only misspelled “hoe-down” but also mistook it as the type of dance at that church meeting.

    Thanks for the tip on Tyndale in Mantel’s novel.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, were you the poster who put DEADWOOD on your all-time favorite list? I don’t like to argue personal preferences, but it seems to me, speaking objectively, that VALANCE is a key work in Ford’s career where he questioned the verites of, say, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. Sure, other westerns have done this – MCCABE AND MRS MILLER is also a key influence on DEADWOOD. But Ford was coming from the heart of the classical western tradition. And again, personally, I find scenes in VALANCE like the cactus rose materializations to be very moving, or, in the case of the film’s final line, chilling.

    Ford deliberately uses a broad, cartoony (if you like) style, as in the political convention, but to me Marvin incarnates a showy, theatrical evil that is very effective.

    Milch’s attitude toward progress is highly ironic, thus Hearst (as a representative figure) is posited as being as inevitable as the telegraph whose arrival opens season two (as I recall).

    Yes, I know what you meant with the “ho down” in CLEMENTINE, but that’s not what you spelled!

  • Alex Hicks

    Yeah, I did put DEADWOOD on a “all-time favorite list,” or more specifically as one of four Western options at a single position on that “all-time favorite list.” (As best I can recall the others were RED RIVER, THE SEARCHERS and a second Ford — probably CLEMENTINE, possibly YELLOW RIBBON.)

    I guess your use of porgress as advancement through time rather than advancement to a further or higher stage or condition is one conventional use.

    I get the your reading of my use of “Ho Down” now — you thought I’d intentionally adopted Milch’s intentionally misspelled use of “Ho Down”! Fair enough.

    I’d be intersted in hearing in what particular way you think “VALANCE … questioned the verites of … MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. (Seems to me that VALANCE simply splits CLEMENTINE’S Earp into two characters to comment more analytically than a single Earp could on the origins or law and order.

  • Rick, it’s my understanding that “Four Sons” had to be rescored for an all-too-common reason: it would have been too expensive to renew the music rights for the original Movietone track. The Movietone score has been well preserved however, and with luck will be reissued in some future, more enlightened and less greedy time.

    Lots of compromises – some necessary and some questionable – went into creating the “Ford at Fox” set, but for all of its flaws, it’s unlikely that we will ever seen anything as ambitious from any studio again.

    If you really want to get depressed (and don’t we all?) check out Fox Home Entertainment’s incredibly lame “Fox 75th Anniversary” series, the studio’s sole library initiative for this year, which a handful of familiar titles recycled from their old “Studio Classics” series (“An Affair to Remember,” “All about Eve,” “Cleopatra”) combined with such undying masterworks as “27 Dresses,” “What Happens in Vegas” and “The Full Monty.”

    Joseph, I’ll throw in with Mike in supporting “Born Reckless,” one of the richest examples of Ford in his high-Murnau period (that opening robbery sequence is worth the price of admission alone) as well as a fascinating example (as was Ford’s remake of “What Price Glory” thirty years later) of what happens when the emotional, reflective Ford is assigned material clearly designed for the hard-driving, existentialist Raoul Walsh (gangsters, speakeasies, Edmund Lowe, Marguerite Churchill).

    And once again, I’m glad to see, we’ve managed to finish a thread by bringing the discussion back around to Pappy.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, and Warren Hymer. And would film history have changed if Walsh had directed UP THE RIVER and Ford directed THE BIG TRAIL.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, you suggest John Ford’s Wyatt Earp (in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) is split into two to create the two protagonists of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. Ford in 1946 is much less ambivalent about the passing of the old west than he is in LIBERTY VALANCE in 1962, thanks in part to his bringing into play two alternate, complimentary heroes rather than a single one. Wayne/Tom Doniphon is the virtues of the old west, Marvin/Valance the evils of a land without civilization, Stewart/Stoddard the coming man. But Ford divided his once lone heroes well before 1962: Wayne and Hunter in THE SEARCHERS, Stewart and Widmark in TWO RODE TOGETHER… in VALANCE Stoddard is the word and Tom Doniphon is the deed. Valance is a howling void, more dangerous by far than Doc Clanton and his gang (who are at least family).

    One can also set MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (referenced by Milch in his third season use of the Earp Brothers) versus DEADWOOD as follows: Earp is to Bullock what Hickock is to Holliday. The angry man of law joins with the legendary gunfighter (in a shootout in the Walter Hill-directed pilot episode). With Hickock’s demise, Bullock forms an uneasy alliance with the town’s de facto leader, Swearengen (who serves a function Holliday also holds in Tombstone). Their enemies (the faceless bureaucrats who want to strip Deadwood of its property rights in season two, Hearst and his minions in season three) are at once more amorphous and more powerful than the outlaw gangs Earp, or Valance and Doniphon, confronted. They’re instead kin to the faceless bank John Qualen confronts in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (what civilization has led to by 1940, just as by 2010 it has led to our faceless and destructive financial institutions)….

  • Alex Hicks

    Very interesting. Personally, neither Ford or the West –especially the rather mythic West, Ford’s included, doesn’t engage my imagination as much as it does many cinephile and, pretty clearly. (As for “ambivalent about the passing of the old west,” I say good riddance to the “old West” and I even think that Ford/Bullah’s being more defensive than wise when he writes “”when the legend becomes truth, print the legend” cause, for me, the legend is heavily vigilante, gunfighter, bad cop — indeed “tea party”– type BS And Ford on history and politics is a bit like Yeats on the faeries and elves — more the artist’s inspiration than a focus of his illumination.)

    Do you address the complexity of Swearengen, which seems to me to exceed that of Doc Holliday both as ally and villain?

    Sound like you’re writing about this. And rather structurally, which I like a lot, though I imagine structuralism to now be a bit 60s and 70s. (The only published humanities type piece of this social scientist that is beyond review length is a structural analysis of the fiction of Norman Mailer….Ever read Will Wright’s strurctural analysis of the Western, “Sixguns and Society”?

    But truly interesting even to me.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, thanks for your interest. I’ve given the western a lot of thought, and may indeed write something about all this someday. In the meantime, there are sites like this, with both this discussion of Clair, and the following thread’s discussion of Al Jolson, returning (as Dave suggests) to Papa!

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, indeed we started one thread with MAMMY and end other with Pappy. Who says we don’t have family values here!?!

  • Alex Hicks

    Gregg Rickman,

    Thinking back to our exchange on LIBERTY VALANCE and DEADWOOD, it strikes me you might enjoy Richard Slotkin’s THE FATAL ENVIRONMENT and GUNFIGHTER NATION on Western myth and reality, if they’ve somehow escaped your close atttention as they had, until recently, escaped mine. The use of the Seventh (and 8th, 9th and 20th) Cavalry in labor repression from Colorado mining to the Pullman strike is especially choice. (Alas, the cavalry quartet that might have shown a Col. Kirby Yorke pacifying IWW villians was not to be.)

    (Slotkin’s REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE is also good, though mostly on the pre-Bellum frontier.)