Perhaps it is just a pathology of my own, derived from 5 years of living very rough in Montana and Oregon, not to mention funky and poor on skid row in Chicago, a really sleazy apartment in New York’s Lower East Side before it began its gentrification, or a myriad of other places I called home that I guess for many would not pass muster, but when I see an image like the one above, all I see are the un-lived-in clothes fresh off the racks of the costume department, and with it the utter failure of those involved to understand anything about the ostensible topic of their film. Horse racing, even the high-end Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the whole damned triple-crown, involves dirt. It is an integral part of dealing with horses. But, Hollywood doesn’t really know about dirt – unless it’s sex dirt or business dirt or ethical dirt, and then it knows a lot; but dirt dirt, sorry they miss the boat every time.
So one would like to think our alleged alternative to Hollywood, the indies (or whatever name they have these days) would know about it, if only just to be contrary. But…
Scanning the film press, I saw some items on Kelly Reichardt’s new film, Meek’s Cutoff (shown in Toronto, now New York FF), and did a quick read on the net, then watched a few passages on YouTube or maybe it was the trailer and a passage or two put on-line by the production company. According to the plot, a group of early pioneers, circa 1854, are being guided across the eastern Oregon dry lands, get lost, and meet up with an Indian, and have to deal with whom to trust – Meek, the honky guide who got them lost, or the savage on his own turf. I didn’t see the movie, so I don’t know how it resolves its little dramatic crux, though the clip shows a show-down between one of the women and Meek, in defense of the “injun.” I do know that however it does it has to be as full of horse-hockey as the above images (I read that the costume designer is much lauded and I guess famous in that department). These folks have been out in the dry desert-like land of eastern Oregon (very beautiful place, by the way), lost, and they’re running out of water. They’ve been there a while – a week, weeks. And there isn’t a speck of dirt on those clothes. Maybe there’s a dry-cleaner over the bend they used, since they damned well wouldn’t have used any of that scarce and precious water – usual ingredient used for washing clothes – in their situation. Or perhaps those involved making this film just haven’t had any experience wearing clothes for several days in a dirty environment, much less a week or more. Which leads to their preposterous imagery. Which leads me to think they don’t really have any understanding of, well, life, or at least the “life” they are depicting in the film.
One scene I watched showed our Indian scrawling on a wall (very unauthentic looking scrawling and scrawls if you ask me) and one of the ladies spots a seam in his moccasin has come loose – plot point – and takes it to sew it up. The moccasin however is also fresh out of props, unworn, its leather fresh – un-oiled and un-greasy as any Indian moccasin would be after a week (and especially at the point of popping a seam). We get a nice close-up of this pristine, but for the carefully undone seam, piece of native shoe-ware.
I would have no problem with this if the film, like its Hollywood brethren, didn’t at the same time try for realism in the “authentic” period costumes, the wagons, etc. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I’d much prefer they went flat-out Kabuki/Noh, or Thai shadow show, since then the artifice would be up front, consistent and believable. But here, as usual, there’s wanting one foot in the seemingly safe ground of “realism” and another foot clearly showing those involved don’t know what “real” is.
Having been told by some acquaintances that Reichardt’s earlier Wendy and Lucy (and Old Joy) were “like” some of my work, and that maybe I’d “like” them in turn, I took some internet looks, and found it also too clean for a vagabond girl (and the mise-in-scene for my tastes was klutzily conventional, albeit minimalized, nor was I convinced by the dialog); I never saw the film. Nor the earlier one with the guys in the woods, Old Joy. Once, long ago, at a festival, I met her and I saw what I think was her first film, set in the deep south, and again, to my senses it was too faux in its affectations of local accent and mannerism. River of Grass by title.
Reichardt is currently a darling of our critics, though that is understandable as critics by and large are devoid of experience in real life, spending far too much of theirs immersed in reel life. I am sure they are neither bothered by the absence of dirt on the clothing in this film, or in the fraudulent lighting of almost all Hollywood fare, or come down to the real point, the fraudulent life-view which that fraudulent lighting (and clothing and….) reflects and expounds, nor, bottom line, do they even notice it is fraudulent.
Which brings me to the thought that as with our national politics, our economy, our whole damn ball of wax, we’re just terminally corrupt. Mentally, morally, politically, socially. And you can read it across the board, even in the tiny little esoteric world of so-called “independent” film, in which tired theatrical dramas are lauded as new and wonderful and exciting when in fact they are stale, boring, and d.o.a. Just as our present culture appears to be.