Film log 2011 #59 - Meek’s Cutoff (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
Excellent fare while we (impatiently) wait for Tree of Life.
Some notes towards a review:
- Recognisable influences: Malick, Leone and Antonioni, and yet a totally original work, a true women’s Western.
- Visually brilliant - travelling on foot across the Oregon Trail: dirt, dust, heat, sweat; the effort of movement in unwelcoming conditions; women’s clothes so inappropriate; the sound of the creaking cart wheel; the heaviness of everything; all extremely realistic.
- The Western landscape is not romanticised, and yet there is a staggering visual poetry to this nature - but it’s more Ted Hughes than William Wordsworth, more Herzog than Eastwood. There are barely any wild animals.
- Meek’s Cutoff is one of the great wordless films: its visual language is so rich that dialogue is not necessary to involve the viewer. The characters so convincingly thirsty that every unnecessary word would chisel a precious chunk of life out of them. When they do speak, their words are tired, blunt and hard - there’s a comparison there with the language of McCarthy’s Western novels.
- Technically inventive: finally some great cross fades without a hint of sentimentality! (Such a relief from the editing in True Grit!) The aspect ratio is refreshing - haven’t seen a Western in Academy ratio in ages. The photography is so clear and the lighting so terse I could have sworn it was shot in HD (but it’s 35mm film).
- Great use of soundtrack and extradiegetic music: sparse, discordant, and used only when necessary. Like There Will Be Blood without the testosterone.
- The encounter between the women and the Indian equates them in the eyes of the white men. The camera always shows them on the same level, and it is significant that Michelle Williams’ character is the only one who accepts his otherness and attempts to set up a communication through exchange. It is very intelligently done. I am not saying it takes a woman to come up with that, but it is not surprising that a woman gets into the arena of a male-domninated genre and does something completely new with it. With the representation of non-dominant characters (as in not male, white, straight and Christian) not even Malick gets to that level! Brilliant.
A note from Ebert:
Although you’ll see the movie in 1:1.33, Steve Kraus of Chicago’s Lake Street Projection Room says: “It was true 1.37:1 Academy ratio. By ‘true’ I mean similar onscreen results could be had by pillar-boxing 1.33 within the conventional cropped wide-screen 1.85:1 aperture, which would make it easier for mainstream theaters to show such films correctly, but ‘Meeks’ was the real deal, in the format of films from before the wide-screen era. Correct lenses and aperture plates required to show. ” Of course Steve has the lenses and plates. If you see this movie projected in wide-screen, it is being projected incorrectly. via
Well done Renoir Cinema at the Brunswick Centre (London) for getting this right. Sometimes it is worth spending a little bit more to get into the cinema.