Jeremiah Johnson – Best of Genre in American Westerns

There is no better American Western than Jeremiah Johnson. Warmer brothers, 1972. A new generation is re-discovering this film.

green tree
Photo by Shahid Tanweer on Pexels.com

It was a genre-buster. It did to The American Western what 2001 A Space Odyssey did to Science-Fiction. 2001 was almost in a fly on the wall documentary style. Detached, scientific, existential. No silly torpedo shapes rockets or  ridiculous space aliens.

alberta amazing attraction banff
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Sydney Pollak’s magnum opus has never been equaled. It is an absolute masterpiece of American film, stripped of the usual sappiness of Westerns and American film in general.

Stephen Gierasch as Del Gué, Delle Bolton as Swan, Will Geer as the old man and Robert Redford as Jeremiah Johnson are perfectly casted.

Before Johnson, westerns of quality were still sentimental Protestant morality themes about good vs. evil like High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma or Stagecoach, man loves horse, Indians played by white men in red-face, railroads and sheriffs vs. robbers.

Otherwise, they were lighthearted affairs like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, True Grit, or insufferable Gene Autry singing cowboys. I never liked John Wayne movies, I found them silly and formulaic.

Westerns, being non-controversial during the Red Scare, were mass-produced by all of the major studios each being more inane and irrelevant than the rest.

The Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns were brilliant in their own way, showing the brutality of the Old West through the lens of the anti-Catholic evil Trinity of the Good the Bad and the Ugly set against the good Trinity of the Father Son and Holy Ghost.

Johnson broke all of the formulas. Indians were not bad guys, they were just people trying to cope with an encroaching alien world. The mountain men rejected society, some like Del Gué, had few principles other than survival. The scenes of violence were graphic and ugly, unheard of for Westerns, almost shockingly unsanitized.

The characters are neither good nor evil. They are almost instinctual. Johnson’s streak of morality and justice almost results in his own undoing as he forgets the reason why he came to the mountains and he tries to re-create the normality of life down below with Swan, (his Indian wife) and the mute boy of the Crazy Woman. It all falls apart when he helps the Cavalry and the self-righteous minister to find lost settlers instead of respecting the Crow burial ground. The scene when he realizes his mistake as he rides alone through the Crow burial ground is brilliantly played by Redford.

Instead of filming on tired Hollywood back lots, it is filmed in real Utah Wilderness, making the scenery its own character in the film.

The point of the movie is summed up in the final conversation between Del Gué and Johnson, when Del says, “You should get down to a town, Jeremiah.” and Johnson replies with: “I’ve been to a town, Del Gué.”

The musical score is brilliant, but the theme songs are almost campy and anachronistic.

The film struck a chord because it was really metaphor for Veterans returning from War and rejecting society, as the Vietnam War had ended in late 1972 when the film was released. Johnson starts out in his Mexican War cavalry pants. The pants are allegory as they become more faded and tattered as he puts his old life behind him. Later, he speaks with the cavalry and asks them how the war is going. When they say it’s over, he asks detachedly: ‘who won?’

The scene in the Crow burial ground is one of the most realistically psychologically terrifying in American cinema.

Johnson, like the Indians, realizes that he needs to find more remote places when he meets a man who identifies himself as a settler.

If you haven’t seen this film, I won’t spoil it. You need to see it. If you don’t speak English, get the original version with subtitles in your own language or you will lose the voices. If you don’t like this film, you either have no understanding of American cinema or you are too jaded to appreciate it.

 

Review: Study in Grief at the Loss of a Child – First Man by Damien Chazelle

People who criticized this film entirely missed the point. It wasn’t supposed to be some rah rah film about Yankee Ingenuity. We get it. It was an American effort helped by German Rocket 🚀 Scientists 👨‍🔬 via Operation Paperclip 📎 while we were competing against the Soviet Union, with their purloined German rocket 🚀 scientists.

They had their heroes; Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova. We kind of loved them too.

We mourned Apollo I, we watched Apollo 8 , 9, and 10 and we wondered if we could be astronauts or engineers at Houston. Then one early morning of July 20th, 1969 the world heard ‘The Eagle had Landed’.

There have been several good movies and series about the Space Program. ‘The Right Stuff’, Apollo 13, ‘From the Earth to the Moon’. They focus on a few different characters. ‘First Man focuses on one, Neil Armstrong. To Americans he was a symbol, a man we never really knew. A quiet man. A hero. He had no flaws like Lindbergh. Classy in all things. America respected him by respecting his privacy. He earned that. Chazelle brings him to life for the first time ever.

space universe moon research
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Oh, Botendaddy is not patriotic? I guess being fifth generation US Army with my own service  in Bosnia 🇧🇦 with the US Army’s 35th ID and then in Iraq 🇮🇶 with the US 1st Cavalry Division doesn’t adequately qualify me as an American who has an opinion on patriotism?

space research science astronaut
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you aren’t an American, then this little internecine conflict seems rather silly, so no worries.

First Man is about a very controlled man, an engineer whose life is detail and structure dealing with very tough emotions. In the final analysis he’s the man you send to the White House to talk to angry Senators. He’s the man you put in front of the press. He’s the man who carries the flag. But the only thing he carries that matters to him is a tiny bracelet.

The loss of a child before your very eyes, especially in slow motion as doctors and modern medicine fail, is a horrific tortuous experience. It is literally physically painful as your stomach muscles grind into tearing knots and you can do nothing for your only child and you watch your wife’s agony. You never get over it. It lingers over you like Poe’s Raven and you live every day in fear for your current or maybe future children.

This movie brought all of that back.

We see Neil Armstrong, the engineer, the fighter pilot try to control things he can’t control in his own life while he can control supersonic jet fighters and test planes in near space. He desperately calls doctors seeking a miracle cure. But cruelly, none of his skill and analysis and calculation can save his own child. He puts his notes and charts and diagrams into a drawer after he loses her to cancer.

All of his joy in his accomplishments are tempered by this overwhelming loss, it is only on the very moon itself that he can achieve some catharsis and connect with his lost child.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant. He plays an emotionally repressed character to tremendous depths similar to his role in ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. He is a man trapped in a world where there is a right and wrong thing to say. His actions are the only release for his tightly wound emotions. His words only come through when he shuts down the loud-mouthed eccentric Buzz Aldrin, played by Corey Stoll, after Aldrin blames the test pilots for their own deaths.

Aldrin was crazy, but also a campy hero who was a little like the common guy and we love him anyway in spite of his flaws.

Ed White, played by Jason Clarke as Armstrong’s best friend, has difficulty reaching through the shell of silence that is the only way Neil can cope until his brain has processed each trauma.

Claire Foy is very strong as the also very controlled yet adult-in-the-room as the very deliberate and level Janet Armstrong. She is the mother of the clan and she accepts the role because a mid-western simple American girl must, it’s not a choice. She provides comfort and guidance to a broken Patricia White  played by Olivia Hamilton. But Janet’s loss is profound as well. Her eyes belie the pain of never being able to take her little girl to buy shoes, never seeing her off to prom or seeing her get married. She lost the only image of herself.

This lack of glory and man as uncertain archetype is also displayed in the technology. The risks are high: fatal test flight crashes, Gemini malfunction and uncontrolled roll, fire, terror and death on Apollo I. All the pain of unproven experimental engineering is unapologetically laid bare.

Chazelle depicts space flight as a dark, terrifying claustrophobic, violent, kaleidoscopic experience where only God, some unknown person’s engineering and your own skill can save you. This is in contrast to the slow sanitized versions we’ve seen in similar films.

The minimalist musical score by Justin Hurwitz helps the movie create mood by avoiding saccharine or overbearing tones and allowing the events to speak for themselves.

The inclusion of the political landscape was important, as the world had changed from the start of the space program when the whole country was united behind the space race as a matter of national honor and competition for then world’s attention vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Riots, Vietnam, Urban poverty was the landscape of 1968. The vignette of Gil Scot Heron, (best known for ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’) doing a rendition of the haunting ‘Whitey on the Moon’ was a brilliant stroke. This only adds to the minimalist third party keyhole view that Chazelle gives us.

When Armstrong returns from space and is in quarantine, he and his wife, separated by glass are just the same two people they always were, yet under an unblinking spotlight on the greatest achievement of mankind, but their glory is nonetheless flattened by an unspeakable loss. They don’t share a moment of triumph as they contemplate each other in obvious pain, rather they are just two people who survived and yet are forced to carry on for the sake of their boys and duty to country.

It is an absolute tragedy that people missed this film because of the current shameful political dichotomy. If you get a chance, you should see this movie. If you’ve ever lost a child, you will truly understand it. If you’ve lost a child, you should watch it alone.

It’s a shame that people were steered away from this movie because the flag wasn’t big and colorful enough. In my world, real patriots don’t have to wave the flag. They live it.

Peace be the Botendaddy

Worst Hollywood Bad Guys Ever

Number 1 Has to be the shitty bad guy from Dirty Harry. Insane and evil. We all wanted him to die horribly. What a piece of shit.

Number 2 Luther from The Warriors. Insane but childlike. ‘Warriors 🎼 come out to play-ee-yay!’

Number 3 Strannix from Under Siege. ‘The little shrimps with the little chaps…’

Number 4 Zorg from Fifth Element. You had to love Zorg. ‘All these little creatures, so happy…’

Number 5 Sho Nuff the Shogun of Harlem from the Last Dragon 🐉. We knew Bruce Leroy would kick his ass. Honorable mention: the sleazy Eddie Arkadian of Kew Gardens.

Number 6 Wilbur Whately from the 1969 version of the Dunwich Horror. “Yog Sothoth!”

Number 7 Alex from a Clockwork Orange 🍊 “There was me, that is Alex, and me droogs…”

Number 8 Hans Becker from “M” He was so crazy, he didn’t know he was evil.

Number 9 Keyser Söze “Agent Kujan…”

Number 10 Hans Landa He was pure slimy  evil like a cat playing with a dying mouse.

Number 11 HAL 9000 made us feel bad for him. “Stop Dave”

Number 12 Mr. Potter. What an anus.

Number 13 The creatures under the stairs from the 1973 Don’t be Afraid of the Dark scared the holy fook out of me.

Number 14 the creepy moving statue from Night Gallery who killed Bill Bixby

Number 15 The Chancellor from Twilight Zone’s The Obsolete Man

Number 16 Zed and Maynard from Pulp Fiction. “Spider caught him a couple flies.”

Number 17 The “Boss” from Cool Hand Luke. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Number 18 General Georges Broulard – Paths of Glory

Number 19 William Foster – Falling Down

Number 20 Angel Eyes – The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Number 21 Hadley Lamar Blazing Saddles

Number 22 Tupac from Juice 🥤

Number 23 Half-Dead Penitentiary Two

Number 24 Devereau Silver Streak

Number 25 Racki from Youngblood

Number 26 Ross Rhea from Goon

Number 27 Dr. Michaels – Fantastic Voyage

Number 28 The Andromeda Strain – The Andromeda Strain

Number 29 Uncle Ernie – Tommy

Number 30 McKenna – Molly Maguires

Number 31 Kananga and The Cola Nut Man – Live and Let Die

Number 32 Brad Wesley from Roadhouse

Bad Guys who are lame:

The Joker 🃏 YAWN: A big who cares.

Darth Vader didn’t scare me. I was eventually rooting for him.

Voldermort: I was rooting for him too.

The Catcher in the Rye guy: really who gives a f@&k?

 

 

 

 

 

Was Jean Paul Sartre’s 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’ inspired by Sutton Vane’s 1923 ‘Outward Bound?

I love Huis Clos. I saw it performed en français by a French acting troupe. It was of course mesmerizing. (It doesn’t make sense in English)

By the way ‘No Exit’ is an atrocious translation of Huis Clos. The best translation implies a confrontation or discussion behind closed doors.

Huis Clos is one of my favorite plays, along with Georg Kaiser’s ‘Gas I’ and ‘Berthold Brecht’s’ Das Elefantenkalb. (You never just say Brecht unless you are a ninny)

There is an uncanny resemblance between Sutton Vane’s 1923 ‘Outward Bound’ and Jean Paul Sartre’s 1944 “Huis Clos”.

Is it odd that the film ‘Between Two Worlds” based on Vane’s play debuted in 1944?

Could it be argued that Sartre, if he was aware of this play, could have compressed the seven characters into three?

Of course, Sartre focuses on the mysterious interplay among three people as opposed to between two or among four or more.

Sartre focuses on the people and not on the journey or destination. In Vane’s play, the destination hangs in the balance.

Note that Vane’s Steward and Sartre’s Valet play very similar roles.

In the singularly brilliant Twilight Zone episode ‘Five characters in search of an exit.’ the characters were never alive, but were in fact children’s dolls. The characters, in the end work together to find an escape only to find the horrific truth. Possibly one of the singular greatest moments in television history.

I have read a lot of Sartre’s work, but I do not know if he ever mentioned Vane’s play.

Mel Brooks’ Lesser Known Films: A Mild Critique

Being in a Mel Brooks Film is now equivalent to having been in a Hitchcock, Tarantino or Kubrick Film. It is a rare badge of honor for a Hollywood actor or actressss.

We love his movies because we fall in love with some of the characters. In these films, there is precious little to latch on to other than the one winner of the bunch: The Twelve Chairs.

“Hot too Hot too! Ziggety Beam Bomb 💣 Boom 💥!” Is my favorite line from ‘Life Stinks 😷 ‘ a 1991 film by Mel Brooks. This is sort of an urban fairytale 🎞 about the 1980’s homeless crisis with a sort of idealized view of homeless people.

The homeless crisis started in the 80’s had twofold causes: Evil sex-crazed predatory psychotic Conservatives and their money-raping health insurance cronies thought it was too expensive to warehouse the mentally ill and bleary eyed unrealistic weepy liberals watched ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest’ and thought all mental hospitals were hell holes 🕳.

The result was the explosion 💥 of mentally ill, drug addicts and alcoholics that poured into our nations’ consciousness and streets in the early 1990’s.

Two wealthy men, Brooks and his rival Tambor ‘Crasswell’ make a bet that Brooks ‘Gord’ Street name: ‘Pepto’, can’t survive thirty days on the streets of LA.

The film might have worked had Gene Wilder played the lead role. We all love Brooks, but he doesn’t stand up well as the main character in any of his movies. It’s sort of like the acting professor taking a role in the college play. Brooks is lovable but lacks the Everyman pathos of Wilder. Leslie Anne Warren is OK as the bag lady love interest.

Rudy DeLuca ‘I flunked flank’ makes a hysterical cameo as nemesis J. Paul Getty. The Gojira-like battle of the bulldozers is hysterical and original and the CAT 🐈 Tractors 🚜 scene is a fine send up of the Grapes of Wrath. Fumes, Sailor and Molly make for a charming new Community of misfit friends.

The plot is simple: rich man sees how the other half lives, it changes his outlook on the world and he ends up a new, kinder man.

The main trope of saving some old homestead from destruction by the new greedy developers is almost as old as man himself.

Some of the tropes end up in other films such as the Sailor ashes-scattering scene having a homage in ‘The Big Lebowski’.

The film is slow paced but watchable as you will want to find out what happens to the characters, but not one of his best efforts.

”High Anxiety” has all the right characters and is an adequate send up of Hitchcock, but once again, Wilder in the main role would have saved it. The movie 🎥 is agonizingly slow-paced with some of the gag scenes going on for too long. The movie is difficult to get through unless you are trapped somewhere.

Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman are great as usual as the villains. Rudy DeLuca is typically hysterical.

Many people love this movie, but it doesn’t pull us in like Brooks’ best films.

“Dracula, Dead and Loving it” is a send-up of Vampire movies, and funny in parts. Leslie Nielsen is great as Dracula, but overall, the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to a full-length comedy feature.

”The Twelve Chairs” is a charming and brilliant film based on the original Russian Story. The writer actually said that Brooks’ version was the best ever made.

The chairs had a treasure hidden in them when the Empire fell. The chairs are essentially metaphor for easy but unreachable life-changing dreams. Almost like a lottery ticket.

It is a timeless tale of greed set against the backdrop of the fall of the Russian Empire and the social disruption cause by the rise of the Communist State.

The immensely talented Ron Moody as the old Count and a very young Frank Langella as the hood are cast as the two unlikely partners in crime, where all bets and the old morality is cast off. We see that society has changed for the Count into something unrecognizable and for the Hood as something without any tangible benefit.

Dom DeLuise as the priest is at his comic apex. Especially where he taunts his nemesis with one of the chairs.

In this sad, lyrical, terribly Russian morality play tale, young and old work together or at cross purposes to achieve their aims in a new society. In the end, friendship and camaraderie win the day.

Unquestionably Brooks best, But a largely unknown film.

”To Be or Not to Be.” I have seen bits and pieces of it, but it did not hold my attention.

”Silent Movie 🎥 “ I literally just finished watching it. It is incredibly slow, boring and dull. It looks like a Youtube feature film made by the lower end of a high school film class.

The flimsy premise is that an old Studio is being taken over by a corporate conglomerate and an intriguing idea can save it.

It tries to capture Buster Keaton (funny) and Charlie Chaplin (morosely unfunny) slapstick Silent film humor. The sight gags are mildly funny but the longer scenes are excruciatingly slow to the point of being boring.

The horrifically unattractive and lifelessly dull Bernadette Peters (how did she ever succeed in show business?) is miscast as the leading lady. You can see the glaring difference in attractiveness when Anne Bancroft is juxtaposed against the terrifyingly hideous Liza Minnelli and the rodent like Peters.

Despite an all-star cast, a few funny gags and some wonderful cameos, the film is impossibly dull and difficult to watch. A different leading man, maybe a David Niven type, Harvey Korman? and a better leading lady, Madeleine Kahn? Might have helped the film… a little.

This would have succeeded as a 30 minute short which was the average length of silent films back in the golden era. A Scott Joplin style piano 🎹 accompaniment would have been more in line with silent film scores at any rate.

A great idea, poorly executed and inadequately edited, rambling, incoherent and slow paced was better left unmade or chopped by an hour.

I will re-watch ‘To Be or Not to Be’ to see if I can come up with any good results.

My reviews are sparse because I don’t follow the formula. I may add more later, I may not.

I recommend watching these films in chronological order.

Peace be the Botendaddy

 

 

I’m not going to Write about Tree of Life for a While

This site was always about the following things:

1. Poorly-written stories

2. Running 🏃

3. Workouts 🏋️‍♀️

4. The adventures of the Writer’s Workshop

5. Posts based loosely on the humor of S. J. Perelman

6. Impressions on my service in Iraq 🇮🇶 with the 1st Cavalry Division 🐴

7. Stories and posts about my home state of New York mostly Cooperstown and the City

8. Stories and posts about my adopted home of Pittsburgh

9. Literary and Film critique

10. The Existential Nihilist Philosophy of Häär Doktor Doktor 👨‍⚕️ Pareczenethy

It wasn’t supposed to be sad. It was supposed to be funny and light-hearted and occasionally crude and silly.

I don’t have anything to offer anymore on Tree of Life. We were just like anywhere else. We were just like your Synagogue 🕍 Church ⛪ mosque 🕌 Temple…. Always complaining about nothing. Showing up late. Making fun of other Synagogues. Showing up really late. Internecine conflict. Showing up incredibly late. Making fun of the people Who were sitting around us during the high holy days. Cutting up with my daughter when we were supposed to be praying. Getting yelled at because my daughter never paid attention in Hebrew school. Getting her to Hebrew school late. Getting dirty looks from other congregants for cutting up during services. Reading the announcements instead of the prayer books. Getting yelled at by the rabbi for not showing up or showing up ridiculously late. Hoping the appeals for fundraising would stop. Showing up spectacularly late.

Peace be the Botendaddy