Wednesday, March 7, 2007

March 7th Log

1971, Robert Altman, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

McCabe & Mrs. Miller begins with the sound of a strong wind over a logo for Warner Brothers studio, who produced what is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made under a major Hollywood studio. Directed and co-written by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman, McCabe & Mrs Miller is perhaps his finest masterwork. A fascinating work of artistic perfection. This is a film that feels real and honest yet it's dreamlike atmosphere is unlike any other film. The film flows like a dream right through to the powerfully moving ending in the snow. The visual atmosphere is truly astonishing. The great cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, beautifully captures a muddy, grainy and stained overall look to the film with some of the most remarkable imagery in the history of filmmaking. Julie Christie gives an excellent performance as Mrs. Miller, the prostitute who agrees to join McCabe in his goal of running a casino / brothel. Warren Beatty is also wonderful as John McCabe. Theirs fabulous chemistry amongst Beatty and Christie, who collaborated in a total of three films together during the 1970s (with McCabe & Mrs. Miller being the first). Among other things, Altman is the master of poetic realism, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller is no exception (of course, Altman's patent overlapping dialogue perfectly adds to the effect). The script seems improvised, and the characters and settings disregard the cliches of most Hollywood westerns, while oddly still using the general premise of the cliches. The strength really lies with the ambiance and atmosphere that Altman creates. The background sounds (be it the wind or overlapping dialogue) and particularly the haunting music of Leonard Cohen add to the mood of the film with beautiful, poetic, and gloomy songs. Featuring three of Cohen’s most beautifully written songs/poems (The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy, and Winter Lady) the lyrics seamlessly flow like a lyrical backdrop to the films emotions, characters, and mood. Ultimately McCabe & Mrs. Miller examines issues of capitalism and business, of love, and of death. To me, this is simply a flawless film in every aspect of artistic filmmaking. Altman relies on the small details and imperfections of the characters or images and the result is a film that is perfect in every way. I just love watching the innovation and beauty of this masterpiece. It's one of America's greatest films, in one of American cinemas most influential decades, by one of America's master filmmakers.


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