And so we come to the end of the Criterion marathon. We have travelled from France, to Sweden, to England, to Japan, and now we come back to America. We start back in the 1940s, a time right before Westerns really kicked off. The film is Red River, starring Montgomery Clift and John Wayne. What a fantastic film this is. Spanning many years, it is about a cowboy (John Wayne) who wants his cattle empire to prosper by any means necessary, and once the land gets used up he finds he needs to move his cattle to Missouri, but his adopted son (Clift) sees that he has gone insane and tries to take the herd from him. It is a beautifully shot film, with some great little action scenes. The dialogue is crisp for the era, and it holds strong themes for a western of that era.
I regrettably watched the next two movies in the same day. One is a comedy that runs 160 minutes, the other is a western that runs 220 minutes. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a hilarious road comedy that was remade as Rat Race about 10 years ago. Mad World is far better and contains a huge cast filled with numerous cameos. Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, The Three Stooges, and Buddy Hackett are just some of the names, while a little hidden cameo from one of the greatest silent-era comedians, Buster Keaton, happens fast enough to miss. The movie is complete chaos, in the literal sense, because I have never seen so many sets destroyed nor so much slapstick in one movie. It is crammed full of hilarity up until the very end.
Up next is a movie that caused quite a bit of chaos back in 1980. Hot off the success of The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino set out to make a film about the Johnson-County War (a historical event involving the murder of foreign immigrants for their land). Cimino was well known for being a perfectionist. He wanted absolute authentic detail; he built sets, never used sound stages, hired thousands of extras, constantly rewrote the script, required dozens of takes for each scene, and even had special dirt brought in so it would look a certain way when horses trotted on it. The budget skyrocketed, as would be expected, and he ended up proposing a 5.5 hour cut to the studios. They hated it, and asked him to cut it down, which he did, to the 220 minute edition. This too was cut down (like my favorite Once Upon a Time in America), and when it premiered it utterly tanked. United Artists lost $41 million on the film, and they were never to be a successful studio again. So basically, this film is the reason why there is not a lot of creative control in the hands of directors if they are working for a major studio. Anyway, the movie is a beautiful epic. Featuring Jeff Bridges, Kris Kristofferson, and Christopher Walken, Heaven’s Gate is a lengthy trek, but in the end it is rewarding. The cinematography is amazing, the score is haunting, and the acting is great. It is long, do be warned, and it does not always utilize the time correctly, but it is still an important film for history that should be seen at least once because it is not the disaster it was.
Switching gears entirely, David Cronenberg’s Scanners is a haunting and gory film about people with psychic abilities. The exploding head scene is one of the most famous shots in film history, and has been spoofed quite a few times, and the film carries a message about how far our human minds can go and how we are having them controlled without us even realizing it.
Finally, at the end of our road, is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Featuring numerous breakout roles (McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams), the film takes place on the last day of school in 1976 and has one heck of a soundtrack. The film is essentially a spiritual successor to American Graffiti which focused on the 60s, but now we have the 70s. We see the fashion, we see the marijuana, we see the cars, and we see the people. It is a look at a time where there was a transition, but there is always a transition. Things phase in and out, but there are no abrupt changes which we tend to look back and see. It is a great film that serves as a time machine to an era behind us, but it is still one fun ride.
So there we have it. 21 films and a short film later, and the journey is over for this year. I will be resuming some less serious and probably less important films than these. So be on the update for some more accessible and better known films.