Long Riders, Brotherly Love

 DATELINE: Brothers Carradine, et al.

Carradines

If you want a seminal rehash of all the big-time bank and train robbers of the West, you could not find a more succinct and intriguing film than The Long Riders.

Written partly by the Keach brothers, Stacey and James, it has as its basic catch-all hook the fact that sets of brothers play sets of brothers:  Jesse and Frank, the Younger Boys, the Millers, and those pesky Fords.

It would seem the director Walter Hill wanted to showcase brotherly relations by finding siblings to play off each other. The family ties also go against each other, as if we are watching some movie history of famous family actors in heat.

The film came out in 1980 and has all the hallmarks of the Peckinpah violence of the era. These outlaws take a dose of slow-motion death throes from The Wild Bunch, etc.

If you want bravura acting, here it is. Without a doubt, the rivalry between brothers is almost as tasty as that between sets of brothers. As you might expect, the gang life of the young criminals and gunslingers is not idyllic, except in dime novels.

The script is episodic: seemingly finding moments, like family gatherings, dances, bordello bonding, and funerals, as the means to lead up to the disaster at Northfield, Minnesota, when they went off reservation and out of their metier.

It’s hard not to cite David Carradine and Keith as scene stealers, though the Keaches write themselves some good lines too. The Quaid boys, Randy and Dennis, seem extremely young, but it was forty years ago.

Macho preening and male bonding have not changed much since 1880 or 1980, and this film is a document to show that fact.

 

 

 

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More Deadwood on TV

DATELINE: Return from the Ash Heap

olyphant

Word has reached us that David Milch, erstwhile Western producer, has decided finally to finish his notable series, Deadwood, with a TV movie.

It will tie up loose ends. The old HBO series starred beautiful Timothy Olyphant and John Hawkes with Ian McShane in a hilarious foul-mouthed turn as Swearingen the saloon town boss. There were more F-bombs C-suckers than could normally fit into a Marine Drill Sergeant convention.

The only problem is that they are tying up the loose ends 14 years after the last episode. It seems that we may be looking at the end of Deadwood from the front porch of the nursing home. Olyphant, as the hot young sheriff, is now 50.

Powers Boothe, one of the original stars, has long since departed Deadwood on the final stagecoach to heaven and the emerald forest.

Timothy Olyphant justified six years as deputy Rayland Givens on Justified in the meantime. And, co-star John Hawkes has become a well-known character actor.

We took in season one again (there were three increasingly shrill seasons) and found the streets as dirty as the language of the characters. For us the highlight was when Hawkes reminded Olyphant that his fly was open as he was about to leave their business tent. “Bad image for business,” he reminds his partner. Later, Ian McShane took a turn for witty and baddie.

You have a tomboy Calamity Jane in full drunk, and Keith Carradine killed off in 4 episodes as Wild Bill Hickok.

You may wonder too how much of the series is historically accurate. How accurate can it be with a 14-year hiatus between episodes? We are curious as to how this problem will be handled when filming begins in the fall.

The over-the-hill gang will return, sort of.

A Quiet Passion: Emily Dickinson Revealed

DATELINE: Dickinson in Amherst

Nixon with Jennifer Ehle

So seldom do we find a movie made out of the epheremal that we want to celebrate. A life of Emily Dickinson is bound to be considered still-born by many modern types.

Cynthia Nixon stars as Miss Dickinson, a reclusive poet whose internal life was as intense as it was empty.

A strong individual, she eschewed church and social niceities for the grandness of her poetry, which was disparaged and ignored during her lifetime.

In an age of movies for noisy and thoughtless audiences, this film will test the true mettle of those with interior lives. It is magnificent in wit, genteel details, and brilliantly directed by Terence Davies who also wrote the script.

This contributes to a singular vision.

Just the bravura scene where they age before a photographer, morphing Emily from Emma Bell to Cynthia Nixon is stunning.

This is a film of nuance, and the actors have the opportunity to show how the lives of the Dickinson family and friends were inspiration enough to make Emily a great poet, unknown to those who lived with her. She considered her life “minor.”

Standouts among the cast certainly must acknowledge Keith Carradine as Emily’s stern, but supportive father—though their differences and debates on God and church are touched by wit and deeper insight.

One might compare this film to the classic great films of Ivory-Merchant so many decades ago. And, those were made for a miniscule audience of literate film lovers. How few of us are left today?

Let’s just feel some joy that a magnificent movie has been given to us: it’s a great gift to enjoy privately. It provides a chance to avoid computerized cartoons based on that weird genre of the “graphic novel” that dominates movie production in the 21st century.

A warning to sunshine poetry lovers, Emily led a most unhappy life–and the film does not flinch from that fact.