Monday, May 21, 2018

The Great Silence

Most important information first: This movie is having its last screenings of its "special engagement" at the Brattle tonight, so if you're reading this on Monday, 21 May 2018, in the Boston area, get yourself to Cambridge tonight. It's worth a look on the big screen, although I'm sure that the Blu-ray coming out next month looks nice.

I maybe shouldn't be taking a break from IFFBoston stuff to post about this, what with the risk of those movies' details falling out the back of my brain, but a couple of things at that festival got me thinking about how and why I keep writing movie reviews rather than using that time on something more creative or even watching all the things that are piling up on the shelf next to the TV (or reading the books and comics serving as good insulation in the bedroom). Eighth Grade pointed out the value of blogs, social media, and the like as diaries and time capsules, while The World Before Your Feet pointed out that progress on the project doesn't have to be particularly timely so long as you're getting something out of it.

And I got something out of The Great Silence. Not necessarily something I didn't already have - I've been drifting in the direction of being anti-gun and pro-social welfare programs for a long time - but for all that you often hear people talk about how spaghetti westerns (and revisionist American ones) were often very political in the time they were made, it often filters into the present as simple cynicism. That has its fans, though I'm not generally one who likes grit for the sake of grit. It clicked here, though - the wealthy man trying to use the law for his own ends; the idea that spending some money on "entitlements" (here, the wagon full of food), even for people who might not technically be entitled, is both more effective and more humane and more effective than ruthless enforcement; the escalating violence from everyone being armed and encouraged to use deadly force to resolve issues; the guy who thinks he's entitled to a woman's attention - all of it seemed crushingly relevant after another week with school shootings and the attendant cries by some to do anything but disarm.

It's tremendously frustrating that a violent, dark western made in 1968 and set in 1898 is so relevant in 2018, and I'm not necessarily good at talking about why 2018 kind of sucks in an effective way (some extended family apparently decided to drop me on social media when I minced no words about how they had done a bad thing with their Trump votes in 2016). Maybe recommending a movie that approaches all these interconnected issues in a direct but still metaphorical manner, or at least talking about why it resonates, is more effective. It at least feels like it might be useful.

Il grande silenzio (The Great Silence)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2018 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (special engagement, DCP)

Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence is making the rounds right now, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a new digital restoration, and despite its age and period setting, it feels especially incisive and contemporary in 2018. Truth be told, it probably never seemed anything else, but it never hurts to rediscover just how incisive this sort of western can be.

As it opens in winter during the 1890s, a group of outlaws are in hiding outside Snow Hill in the Utah territory, prices on all of their heads, although an amnesty is expected from the new governor (Carlo D'Angelo) soon. In the meantime, he's sent a new sheriff (Frank Wolff), and a mute gunslinger known as "Silence" (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is defending them, although Silence is canny enough to never fire a shot not in self-defense. That may not be enough to deal with Loco (Klaus Kinski), who despite his name and vicious streak is canny enough to make sure he's not provoked.

The date of the event which inspired the film is not mentioned until the closing credits roll, but it's not hard to place this movie toward the end of the era; there's an exhaustion to the way that the characters go through some of the motions of Western movies. It's a winter with deep snow rather than a desert of pounding sun, and the assumed lawlessness of the frontier seems to be breathing its last gasp, with the assumption of frontier lawlessness fading as the government at least acts as if it has the power to do something, to the point where even fugitives believe they may get a fair shot. Gunfighters seen as a scourge rather than heroes and legends, with even the title character having a specific sort of cowardice in how he cold-bloodedly arranges for the law to protect him in his assassinations.

Full review on EFC

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