Monday, March 5, 2007

March 5th Log

1950, Anthony Mann, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

This month I will be watching many of the films from Anthony Mann, a director mostly known for his noirs and most of all his westerns. I’ve yet to see any of the Mann westerns so I’ll plan to watch as many as I can this month. Of course when you talk about Anthony Mann you have to begin with his collaborative films starring the great James Stewart. Together they made eight films together (five of which were westerns). The first was the first film I choose to watch, 1950’s Winchester ‘73. After making low-budget noirs during the 1940s, Winchester ’73 also marked Mann’s first western, a genre he is known most celebrated for. Having not seen the other westerns yet I can’t compare this, but Winchester ’73 is a terrific achievement, most notably on the levels of it’s directing and acting. What makes the film so fascinating is the psychological aspect set amongst the vibrant pace. Mann has complete control of the craft with his direction that reaches masterful heights at the tense personal climax shootout. Adding to the psychological elements of the films mood is an outstanding lead performance by Stewart, who driven revenge reaches obsessive heights. Mann uses the coveted Winchester gun to set the narrative pace and in many ways as the point of focus in the films progression, yet it is only a backdrop to the psychological conflicts of the characters. Aided by a great supporting cast (Shelley Winters, Millard Mitchell, Dan Duryea, Will Geer among others) and stunning photography, Winchester ’73 is a great achievement of filmmaking. I look forward to seeing more of Mann’s work in this genre.

2005, David Jacobson, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Down in the Valley is a well written and excellently performed film. While not a groundbreaking achievement of anything new, the film is a revision of the western set in contemporary California (the San Fernando Valley, which perfectly plays out as the backdrop of the landscape and emotional themes). Edward Norton (who co-produced the film) gives an outstanding performance as Harlan, a drifter cowboy who grows a relationship with a young girl (played by the talented Evan Rachel Wood) and her younger brother (Rory Culkin). Harlan’s lost and imaginary values contrast with the harsh reality of the world. Down in the Valley begins to fade towards the end and results is an uninspiring climax, but the films first half reaches depths of poetic beauty in a way reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Norton is an actor I’ve considered a bit overrated, but he has given some powerful performances, and I think this deserves mention among his finest. The last half hour losses the steam and pace a bit, but the first half is effective enough to enjoy the film. It seems to have a lot to say but is never forcing any message. Down in the valley went almost completely unnoticed both in the theaters and on dvd, and that is unfortunate because it is a good film with the capabilities of gaining wide audience appeal.


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