Monday, November 16, 2009

Monte Hellman: The Shooting

I just saw Monte Hellman's enigmatic western film The Shooting, for the first time on big screen, I think. I had seen the movie earlier at least two times, but both times from television only, and with a wrong picture ratio. I'm loving the film more each time I see it.

There are lots of things to like about The Shooting. It may not suit any western fan's tastes, and I believe there are more people who are not into westerns, but like Hellman's film, than there are people who love westerns and still like Hellman's film. Get it? That might've been a bit convoluted... The atmosphere is very eerie, nothing is ever very clearly explained and there's a feel of absurd theatre. The photography is great, with people running in a distance from one edge of a picture to another. There also lots of extreme close-ups, like when we see Jack Nicholson's eyes for the first time. There's not much action and when there is, it's not exactly very thrilling, but that's not what Hellman has set out to do.

Someone might ask: "What has set out to do then?", and I have to admit the answer is not very clear. There's not much symbolism in the film, which coincides with the feel of absurdism. Someone might get some clues from the names of the characters, which may - or may not - point to some moments in American cultural history. Hellman himself said that the shooting in the end is meant to resemble the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby - there's a newsreel grittiness to the picture, alright, but otherwise I find it pretty far-fetched.

What's the most important thing about this film, to me, at least, is that it's a perfect embodiment of American cinematic art, emphasis on "American". The Shooting, regardless of the absurdist feel to it, is essentially an American film. There are no elements of French New Wave brought to it. The Shooting is not self-reflective, as something by Jean-Luc Godard might be. Even though it's a piece of absurdism, The Shooting is still a B-western, populated with smirking hired guns, saloons, horses, saddles, six-shooters, Indians, a tough lady, deserts. You could watch this in a drive-in and, well, feel cheated, but you wouldn't be able easily to recognize it as art.

The later American art films, of the late sixties and early seventies, have a European feel to them, and I've always thought there's something phony about it, starting from Bonnie and Clyde. Not so with The Shooting. Hellman's western is something Budd Boetticher might have done had he gone on directing westerns in the sixties, and it's also something Elmore Leonard's western novels, like Valdez Is Coming (which admittedly came a bit later), were going to. The idea of one man suddenly standing alone in the desert (take a look at how Leonard's "The Captives", the basis for Boetticher's The Tall T, starts) is something essentially American.

The same could be said about Hellman's other 1966 western, Ride the Whirlwind, and even more so, but The Shooting remains the most important of the two.
This isn't very good, but check it out anyway: a later-made trailer for The Shooting.


Paul D Brazill said...

Great post. top film.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love Two-Lane Blacktop and The Cockfighter. Haven't seem this one.

Juri said...

Patti, you must see this immediately. I'm not sure if it's available easily on DVD, but there might be some VHS tapes around for sale.

And I haven't seen The Cockfighter. I must ask some friends of mine. Ride the Whirlwind is also essential, Hellman's later western China 9, Liberty 37 isn't, but it has its virtues.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The Cockfighter is based on the Willeford novel and smashing.

Juri said...

Yes, and I haven't even read the book! :(