Friday, September 28, 2007

September 28, 2007
Well, even though I finished the Dick Liddil gunfight and sent it off to the printer, the new info just keeps pouring in (see below). I also had a backlog of discussion on movie locations, the new Jesse James movie, etc. and this morning I'll try and catch up.

If Actors Can Act, So Can Locations, Part II
"Speaking of locations acting, If Alberta can be Bisbee, Arizona can be Saudia Arabia. That's apparently where they filmed the desert scenes for THE KINGDOM, the shoot-and-bomb-em-up-geo-political-thriller that opens today.

Read about it in The New Republic.

"I can just imagine the Saudi audience reaction, 'hey, that's not An Nafud, that's the Mohave.'"
—Dan Buck

Well, technically, the Kingdom was filmed in east Mesa (What A Place-ah!), transforming the 202 freeway into Saudia Arabia. And it's the Sonoran Desert, not the Mohave. I'm going to see it this weekend (one of our Old West guys from here, Tony Casanova, is in it). I'll let you know if there are saguaros in the shots, because that's what I do (much to the chagrine of all the people in the theatre watching the film with me).

This Paragraph, Posted Earlier That Set Off The Firestorm Below
"The Western wasn’t killed by an indifferent audience but rather at the hands of political correctness. Straight-forward stories like Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma, and Open Range, still put as many butts in seats as any zombie film. It’s only when stricken with the modernism of a Silverado, the grating feminism of Bad Girls, and the hand-wringing self-loathing of Geronimo that they die well-deserved premature deaths. Other than touching on the fascination of celebrity — something as old as mankind – Jesse James is about the universal themes we all relate to. How refreshing not to once hear about the plight of the Indian."
—LIBERTAS Review: The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

"To my mind, I think bad westerns damaged the genre, but for the most part it was the supersaturation of bad westerns and bad western television shows that did the real damage, not politically correct or pop-amped westerns like Bad Girls. If the genre is fragile, bad westerns like the ones the reviewer cites can't do it any good. But even good westerns --Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma, and Open Range--can't fill seats the way teen sex comedies and zombie movies and horror movies and clever animated films can or CGI-driven action pictures, because that demographic is no more interested in westerns than a kid in 1956 would pass up a cheesy monster double bill to see The Searchers. It isn't that Westerns reflect 19th century American history, they reflect a mid-20th century media form, or the perception of that form.

"Really, I think that the solid made-for-TV westerns, Lonesome Dove, the Turner-produced pictures and a few others have done more to keep the genre afloat than any single theatrical movie.

"Jesse James may be, to the western genre, what The Thin Red Line was to War pictures, only with more star (Pitt) power. And I'd be willing to bet that an art western could possibly do as much damage as a PC western, but that doesn't mean we can't love them.

"Funny that Russell Crowe did for the western, to a lesser extent, the same thing he did for Gladiator movies. I wish Master And Commander had done as well--it's the best of the three. But imagine what it might have been like trying to sell Gladiator? All that stuff is creator-driven. If Ridley Scott wants to make a gladiator movie, he will, same as he's working on Blood Meridian."
—Henry Beck

"The excerpt quoted from the Libertas Review of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES is uninformed nonsense. Worse it has really nothing to do the review itself, which is glowing in its praise of the James film. But -- a significant but -- buried deep down is this ominous warning: "This movie isn't for everyone. It's a moody character piece that takes its time with very little action . . . ." Uh oh.

Read it all here.

"Reviews of the Jesse James movie, by the way, are all over the map. THE NEW YORKER's Anthony Lane didn't much like it, though it is clear from what he wrote that he gave it a serious viewing.

"Lest the customary rebuttals flame in about Eastern critics being allergic to Western films, consider that the NEW YORK OBSERVER's Andrew Sarris, the doyen of Manhattan filmerati, liked JJ, as did Nigel Andrews at the FINANCIAL TIMES. But even the happy campers among the critics often mentioned JJ's dawdling pace, a problem that is perhaps accentuated by its almost three-hour length.

"In another Libertas review, on the fantasy epic 300, is this gem: "But story is everything. And the biggest reason 300 [is] successful is because its central story is exciting and well plotted."

"Pretty good advice to give any director, shooting Westerns or not.

"Back to the unadulterated nonsense. You will notice that the Libertas critic does not mention DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990), the most financially successful Western of the modern era. Why? Because some/many people of his ideological tribe consider DWW outre, politically correct. They hate the movie. Yet it's global box office was $424.2 million (unadjusted for inflation). The U.S. take was $139 million. In fact, DWW is the only Western on's top 100.

"So what does the Libertas reviewer do? He picks three movies made between 1985 and 1994 that he thinks support his case that "political correctness" -- meaning a politics he can't be bothered to explain, but doesn't like -- killed the Western. First, the Western was long gone by 1985. Second, many Westerns were in their own way politically correct, that is, overly romanticized, ahistorical agitprop. And formulaic and boring to boot.

"Someone who knows more about the film industry than I, which is to say just about anybody, could roam off on the studio system, limited entertainment choices, etc., as to why Westerns were once more popular. Maybe the answer is that they were done in by their popularity. They wore out their welcome. I do not know.

"Third, I can't speak for GERONIMO, which I don't remember seeing, nor BAD GIRLS, which I've never heard of -- and which per Rotten Tomatoes was execrable, netting a 10% positive review -- but SILVERADO got good reviews (RT: 89%) and was as I recall moderately successful at the all-important box office.

"Most of the movies on World Wide's top 100, by the way, fall into what can best be described as fantasy-action-thriller. That seems to be what the audiences want. I hasten to add that World Wide's numbers are unadjusted for inflation and thus newer movies have statistical handicap over older movies. Still, this list is instructive on what it is that, if I can poach a phrase, 'puts butts in seats.'

"I hasten to add that whatever the genre, the movie still has to be entertaining, engrossing, and well-paced."
—Dan Buck

Minnesota Mike Weighs In
"Ah yes, almost October in Phoenix. I really dig this time of year here, baseball playoffs, football and the coolness finally arrives. After putting up with this past summer, its payoff time for living here. In the current issue of Time, in the movie reviews: To Tough to Die. Nobody likes westerns, so why are they so good? They rank the top 5 grossing westerns in article also. They are 1) Butch Cassidy and SK 2) Duel in the Sun 3) Dances w/Wolves 4) Unforgiven (hell Blazing Saddles is a better movie than this) and 5) The Good, Bad and Ugly. Yes the Vikings still suck. 1) Marcel Marceau died and left $12 million dollars to his imaginary dog. 2) The recently discovered Davy Crockett letter is actually a love note to JoanRivers. 3) Phil Spector mistrial: Phil Spector walks out of his house with bloody hands and says "I think I just killed someone" and thats reasonable doubt to a LA jury. Bart Bull-out!"
—Mike Melrose

Back To Jesse With Huffines
"I don't think The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a Western. I consider it the final act of the War Between the States.

"Don't believe me? The perfect film trilogy for the story would be RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, THE LONG RIDERS, and THE AASSASSINATIOIN OF JESSE JAMESBY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.

"The original insurrectionists eventually gave themselves over to crime (which is not uncommon in insurrections). Go back to the origins of the JY Gang. Recall what motivated both groups of men into armed service against the Union. Today's grievant is tomorrow's insurgent. What was the root cause for the behavior? Everything sprang from there. Don't get me wrong, I am not lost-causing it here, but we have to see them they way they saw themselves."
—Alan Huffines

"I DO hope they get the Pitt film into wider release as it may well be closer to what happened than anything thus far, even it it takes some poetic license like having Ed Miller living into 1881 [I'd have to see the film to juddge]. I also wonder if it's not closer in its portrayal of Jesse than anything thus far. As for Ford, I wonder if he "worshipped" Jesse as much as Hansen has it. I'd have to see the movie to make any further comment on this. From what I've picked up it is being speculated that Warner Bros. may have been caught not knowing how to market a film like this, which falls somewhat outside the usual sphere of their current fare. Warners may be worried about another Heaven's Gate, but beyond a point that can be counter-productive."
—Ted Yeatman

Late Breaking Dick Liddil Loves Martha Bolton News
"Just a few things off the top of my head. Without checking census records (which I can do Saturday), I would say Martha was probably in her mid-twenties. I don't recall ever seeing either a photo or newspaper engraving of her. According to her tombstone, Dick's wife, Mary, was born Sept. 14, 1860 and died May 10, 1872. This has to be a mistake. If memory serves, she died in the 1880s -- so it's likely her death was in 82 instesd of 72. (I'll give the cemetery a call to verify it.) If so, it's also likely that she was in poor health at the time of Hite's death. The stories of Liddil and Hite being rivals for Martha's affection seem somewhat unlikely to me -- mentally Wood was apparently not the shiniest penny in the piggy bank, and the physical descriptions of him I have seen would make the scroungiest guest on the Jerry Springer Show look appealing by comparison. Unless Martha had unbelievably poor taste, he would not have a chance agains the rather dapper Liddil. Whether she was sleeping with one or both is a matter of conjecture. The house was often described as a "cabin," which would lead one to believe is was fairly small, but it did have at least one bedroom upstairs. I understand that Liddil was already aware of Hite's disatisfaction -- Liddil said in his confession dated March 29, 1882:"
—Chuck Rabas

Blood Meridian In The Works?!
Is Ridley Scott working on a movie version of Blood Meridian? As in production, or as
in developing a script?

"Yes, script by William Monahan, who wrote The Departed. Right now it's set for 2009, which could mean anything or nothing. In any case he's locked in until he's locked out.

"I feel like I'm always trying to figure this Western business out, but I always know when I hear someone saying that the simple morality of the Western doesn't work anymore (usually they refer to Watergate or Vietnam), or that kids don't care (that means they're talking pre-1963 or so) or any of that stuff, they're not hitting it. If I had to throw a wide net I think it has to do with fashion, that the zeitgeist has simply waned, or that the awe that horses and six guns and strong silent types once inspired is lost. The spaghetti western hammered all that iconography into complete abstraction, but the drama in them was serious all the same. Then it went through a period where its basic tropes were mocked, but some real art came out of it.

"The only thing I can say with some confidence is that if the story is good enough, and I mean really good, it'll work. Deadwood, Lonesome Dove proved that to me.

"Speaking of, I was told that I should expect a screener of Comanche Moon in the next week or two."
—Henry Beck

Lots to talk about, but I have to go out to Pioneer for the big festival this weekend. I'm speaking today, tomorrow and Sunday. Joel Klasky is manning our booth. Need to go. More later.

Classic Onion Headline de Jour
Anti-Homosexuality Sermon Suspiciously Well-Informed

"If actors can act, so can locations."
—Dan Buck

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