Cinema of Dust

Since we moved here over 3 months ago, we haven’t attended one movie or rented a single film. We’ve watched a few on TV or cable and watched The Station Agent as a test of our Time/Warner video on demand system (pretty sweet, we thought, even if we forgot to use the coupon to rebate the cost of the rental.) I also watched Once Upon a Time in Mexico which I had bought but never watched.

Last night, I went to the nearest rental place and rented Elf for everyone to watch and Kill Bill V2 for just me. After Elf everyone else went to bed and I stayed up watching the tail end of the Sam Peckinpah documentary on Encore Westerns and then Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. In junior high, I read one of those books about the worst movies of all-time, I think authored by that schmuck Michael Medved, and this film featured prominently in it. Not only do I disagree that it is a worst film, I actually thought it was pretty good. It had the whole modern western thing down, in fact acting as the prototype for some of it. Mexican locations and religious imagery, a sense of despair and disolution, moments of joy interrupted by extreme violence. I thought Warren Oates gave a terrific performance. From the documentary, several people said that everyone on the set knew that Oates was basically playing an impression of Peckinpah himself, that is except for Peckinpah. I found it highly satisfying.

I also found that it and Kill Bill V2 made a great double feature. There are a lot of tropes in common, including having the protagonist buried alive in Mexican/Texan cemetaries and digging their ways out, the violent revenge plot, and the general dirty, gritty sense of tension. I’d have to say that I found Part 2 a much more satisfying movie, and I loved Part 1. Much like anyone my age, I grew up watching Kung Fu Theater on USA networks and delighting in the cheeziness of it all. It was enough to get me to love Part 1, but I really was emotionally involved in Part 2. The complex feelings of love and hate that the Bride has for Bill drive this movie, and the whole thing would fall down if you couldn’t empathize with them. I could, completely. I bought in entirely that you could fall under Bill’s spell, and I also bought in that he would need killing. This is an order of magnitude better than the next best performance I’ve seen from David Carradine. He’s one lucky bastard that Tarantino cast him in this film.

All the performances in this movie were great. Michael Madsen also turned in a superb performance, unusually low-key for him. I’d seen references to his character as being hard to swallow, his conversion for badass hired killer to pushed-around schmuck. I completely believed that he considered taking abuse from people as part of his penance for an act he regretted and wanted forgiveness for. It is telling that he is the only villain in the whole film (both parts) not killed by the Bride. Although there was certainly action here, I was much more entranced by the slow unfolding of the character drama. This part was much more of the Sergio Leone feel that I had been wanting from Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

All in all, I really enjoyed both of these movies. I found the juxtaposition of watching both in a short period to also be highly satisfying.

2 Replies to “Cinema of Dust”

  1. Be sure to watch the original “El Mariachi”, followed by “Desperado”. I liked them better than “Once Upon…”, the third in the trilogy. “El Mariachi” is obviously done by a young and under-funded writer/director/producer, but the talent shows through. I kind of wish he could have stayed with the lesser known acting talent for the other two movies. I get tired of too much Antonio Banderas, but Selma Hayek is very easy on the eyes, and my wife and I like Johnny Depp in anything. Oh, and the extra things on those DVDs are kinda fun to watch. -sln

  2. Dave, you are right on with Alfredo Garcia. That is one of my all time favorite movies! Some day my dream will come true and they will release it with loving care on DVD. Warren Oates does a terrific job in that film- pure brillance.

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