Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Dub Thee Unforgiven

I recently watched Unforgiven for the first time.  No excuse as to why it took so long, especially since a character (Saint of Killers) in one of my favorite stories of all time (the Preacher series) is based on director/star Clint Eastwood's character and I love the actor's old Westerns.  I just never got around to it.  Maybe it was because of Morgan Freeman.  Sure, he's talented, but he rubs me the wrong way.

I was wrong in waiting, as this film, which moves slowly but deliberately, was an incredible meditation on the nature of violence and whether or not you can ever truly let go of your past.  Taken on it's own, that is what it is.  Taken as part of Eastwood's cinematic history and it becomes a reflection on his career.

The Western is America's samurai story, though the "cowboy" in real life was far less of a honorable person than the samurai.  It is the closest thing we have to those warriors, and because of that we romanticize it.  The rugged individual riding out on the prairie gunning down inhuman savages -- it all makes for a great story, but really does little to speak of for the history of racism and moral corruption (and let's not even speak of the commonplace homosexuality) that accompanied all that.  It is part of America's history, but like most of America's history, it has been twisted into something it's not.  Eastwood doesn't address that here ... at least not fully.  Instead, he concentrates on what violence does to people, and in that sense this film is a thing of beauty.

When you first meet Eastwood's Will Munny, he is a widowed, bumbling pig farmer with two children.  He also has a history.  He was a crazed killer who gunned down men, women and children with no remorse.  Life is different now, though.  He had met a woman who changed him, and he plans on sticking to that.  Without giving away the film's plot, he is presented with a situation that calls on part of that past he can't seem to call up until something horrible happens to his friend.  Munny is responsible for his friend's fate, and that is when Munny calls upon whatever drove him in the past to help him wield a horrible vengeance.  It is here that Eastwood returns to the man-with-no-name of his past movies.  He becomes the good, the bad, and the ugly all rolled into one.  If you haven't seen those previous films, you will still be moved by what is presented in Unforgiven, but if will mean more if you've followed Eastwood throughout the years.

My dad, rest his soul, was the one who introduced me to horror movies and to Eastwood.  We would watch Sergio Leone's take on the myth of the West on Saturday afternoons.  The Spaghetti Westerns would inevitably lead to some Dirty Harry movies.  It was a good education for me, and it is something that has never really left me.  While watching Kill Bill Vol. 2 I could see exactly where Tarantino got his inspiration.  It was with this same sense of film history that I watched Unforgiven.  It was like watching the culmination of years of contemplation, and it was unlike anything I ever expected out of a genre I pay little attention to, and for that I was pleased.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can a Film Cause a Race War?

If you've seen Machete you know it makes no bones about its feelings on illegal immigration.  It shows those against it as gun-toting rednecks with little concern for human life, those who exploit it as greedy capitalists, and those who engage in it as good people just trying to get by.  It's a grindhouse movie, so the simple, direct approach to the problem is to be expected.  If you read the Internet mumblings, however, there are people afraid this film could spark a race war between Mexicans and their pale cousins to the North.

Charles Manson tried it.  The government and your employer is always using the fear of it to keep you in your place.  The divide between races is a great fear motivator.  To think this film would promote it or cause it, though, is kind of missing the point.  Machete, in its own blood-flowing way, is merely pointing out what already exists.  There are strong feelings on the subject, and neither side is innocent or completely wrong.

As I wrote on my other blog, Cancerous Zeitgeist, the audience I saw it with really liked the anti-immigrant sentiment (ironically yelling at the screen in a display stereotypically attached to the black movie going audience).  The group did not like it when whitey started to buy it, though.  Seeing as the film was number two at the box office its first week, whitey didn't hate it that much.

I love the fact that a grindhouse film, which along with exploitation used to be the most dangerous cinema America had to offer, can inspire such fear and concern.  It speaks well to the film, and unkindly to an ignorant audience.  I doubt our leaders will be using it to highlight the problems of illegal immigration anytime soon, but in a perfect world maybe it would. 

Then again, maybe our representatives are waiting for the sequels.