Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Heaven's Gate Once Again

Lately I’ve been watching the “director’s cut” of the movie Heaven’s Gate, the 1980 epic that supposedly bankrupted a studio and effectively ended the career of director Michael Cimino.  I saw at a theater the original release of a truncated version, where it bombed on debut.  The longer cut is a much better film that perhaps deserves more appreciation.

The film has two story lines:  the larger is the conflict between powerful Wyoming cattle ranchers and the poor Eastern European immigrants who are spilling onto grazing land, and the smaller is the love triangle involving a brothel madam (Isabelle Huppert) and her two lovers, the local lawman named Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and the enforcer for the cattlemen named Champion (Christopher Walken). 

The film’s structure is in three parts:  a main narrative set over a short period of time in Wyoming bookended by a long 20 minute prologue of the Harvard class of 1870’s graduation ceremonies and a short epilogue set back east in Newport.  The main character is Averill, one of the Harvard graduates who years later is the county lawman duty-bound to protect the immigrants but who seems at times wearily resigned to the inevitability of their oppression by the powerful and violence-prone ranchers.  Billy (John Hurt), classmate and friend of Averill, speaks at the graduation ceremony and concludes that society is “well arranged”, contravening the main graduation speaker who encouraged the men to make the world a better place.  Twenty years later they both are out West, where society is definitely not “well arranged”, although Averill is trying to make it more so. 

The film has problems, to be sure.  The uneven narrative meanders, lingering here and there with poignant “slice of life” segments such as a rousing roller skating scene and the graduation segment.  Poor sound quality and mumbled dialog (this could almost be an Altman movie) makes the narrative frustratingly hard to decipher in places.  Nevertheless, the movie is captivating, surprisingly so since the plot in many ways is so mundane.  It’s beautifully filmed in many parts, especially those showing the hardscrabble lives of the immigrant poor, their perseverance and resilience in the face of great hardship, and their exuberance and emotionalism as well.  Perhaps the movie works best as a collection of slice-of-life portraits, which somehow taken together amount to more than the whole.

“Heaven’s Gate”, incidentally, is the name of the roller skating rink in the immigrant-dominated town of Sweetwater which proudly proclaims in writing to offer a “moral and exhilarating experience”.  The film reminds me of another revisionist Western with a story similarly of growing intensity, explosive violence, and haunting music -- Sergio Leone’s 1968 film Once Upon a Time in the West, which itself incorporated many references to earlier Westerns and whose story revolves around a railroad baron’s ruthless ways which eventually lead to his ruin at a crucial piece of land named, perhaps only coincidentally, Sweetwater.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama Gets More Nervous

Today comes news (link) that President Barack Obama has publicly declared, in an ABC interview "hastily" arranged this morning, support for gay marriage, just a day after voters in swing-state North Carolina defeated (link) a proposition in favor of such.  This announcement also comes a day after Obama was nearly beaten (link) by an obscure incarcerated felon in the West Virginia Democratic Party primary, for which some Democrats are shockingly blaming (link) Democrat voters’ racism rather than disgust with Obama’s record, after voters in Wisconsin came out shockingly strongly for Republican governor Scott Walker in the primary for the recall election (link), and after Obama’s favorite Republican senator, the squishy Dick Lugar, shockingly overwhelmingly lost in the Indiana primary. 

Add to that national popularity polls that show Obama either behind Romney or just only slightly ahead in those propaganda polls that overweight Democrats so that Obama comes out on top.  Bottom line is this picture looks to me like Obama now ever more so desperately feels the needs to shore up his unenthusiastic base and continue to distract away from his record and from the economy.  All these are positive signs for Romney, if he stays on message.

John M Greco

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Change, Then Hope

I've read that Barack Obama's new slogan for his reelection campaign is "Forward".  Anne Sorock writes at Legal Insurrection (link):  "Similar to the 2008 concept, Change, this one-word slogan captures a vague sense of movement without articulating a strategy, end, or principle. The movement this terms evokes is no more than a different state than we’re currently in, and a positive trajectory."  Well, when you have a disastrous record, you can't run on that, so what have you?  Apparently an appeal to go "Forward", which, in a remarkable coincidence, happens to be an old socialist slogan (link) [not to mention the Wisconsin state motto (link)].  Hmmm.

Here's my suggestion for Romney:  "Change, Then Hope".

John M Greco