Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lonely are the haters.

I know you guys have been missing my rambles, so here goes...

As expected, this "classic movie nerd" will now join the chorus of praise coming out of the blogs of Brandon and Jeffrey.

Lonely Are the Brave is The Big Sky meets Faces meets Rambo. I could unpack that, probably, but mostly I'm just trying to be as ridiculous as the rest of y'all.

1962 is the date engraved on the tombstone of the Western. I'm hoping to watch Ride the High Country and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence sometime soon. I'll be just fine if I never watch How the West Was Won ever again, but I probably ought to give it another chance. What I know about Liberty Valence and High Country, though, suggests the same sad recognition of the passing of what has come before.

Of course, that tombstone is marking an empty grave. Someone stole the body. I think I saw Aaron Katz running off with it last.

So, Lonely Are the Brave.

Yes, count me among those who saw the end coming from the beginning (not specifically HOW, but I knew he had to die chasing freedom). While I sympathize with Jason's concerns, I don't really agree that the ending is a downer. The film would not make the same point if Douglas rides off into the sunset. The Cowboy has been killed by Modernity. There can be no happy retirement. There are no margaritas on the gulf coast. There can be no treacly nostalgia.

Jerry Bondi: Jack, I'm going to tell you something. The world that you and Paul live in doesn't exist. Maybe it never did... out there is the real world. And it's got real borders and real fences, real laws and real trouble. And you either go by the rules or you lose. You lose everything.
Jack Burns: You can always keep something.

No one has mentioned yet that the film is based on a novel by Edward Abbey. I haven't read anything by him, but I've got friends who love his books. It's worth mentioning, at least, that much of the anarchic character of Jack Burns must be traceable to this source material.

I don't remember much about my early life and not much about my early education. I do remember my kindergarten teacher teaching us the subversive lyrics to Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

I'm a big fan of personal property. [and despise land taxes as something evil; a claim by the state to be the true owner of the land; if you don't think this is what land taxes mean, well, just try to stop paying them for a few years and see how long you can stay on "your own" land]. But, the above lyrics still deeply resonate. There's an instinctual understanding that a fence or a sign means nothing. Fences do not make good neighbors. They make good fences.

I found the immigration sub-plot an interesting addition to this theme. Jack's friend Paul is imprisoned for aiding illegal immigrants. Surely this has a lot to do with fences and borders as well as the way that Jack lives his life. Are we really going to fault men for crossing an imaginary construct?

It's a week in jail for assaulting a one-armed man. It's a year in jail for assaulting a man with a star pinned to his chest.

I won't go into a rant about the prison system now.

What is interesting here is that the West once was the frontier. Society hadn't caught up yet. I touched on this a bit last year when I wrote about True Grit. As the West is tamed and the fences come up and the laws (both necessary and sometimes ridiculous) are established, there is a reining in of the lawlessness (not necessarily a good or bad thing) that had once prevailed.

This is (at least one aspect of) what Lonely Are the Brave is "about".

There is no turning back the clock. There is no hope in the romantic notion that the cowboy spirit will prevail. The conditions that created the cowboy spirit are gone. Once the last of these men dies off, there is no chance of this spirit being revived. Conditions have changed. A new animating spirit has arrived. Kirk Douglas had hoped that the film would be titled, "The Last Cowboy."

We are undoubtedly living in a post-cowboy world. I've had limited exposure to cowboy and rodeo culture. There is some continuity to the old ways, but everything has been transformed. As always, there is no way to "conserve" the old ways. The (Cowboy) Spirit is constantly putting to death and resurrecting and transforming life. Clinging to old ways may be romantic and nice, but it always gets you killed.

Paul is the character in this film who is put to death and resurrected. He understands that he can no longer enjoy life in the way that he once had. He must enjoy it in the way that he has now.

Jack, our stubborn hero, is unable to do this. This is his charm and this is weakness.

Jack recognizes the flaw in his character:
"'Cause I'm a loner clear down deep to my guts. Know what a loner is? He's a born cripple. He's a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It's his life, the way he wants to live. It's all for him. A guy like that, he'd kill a woman like you. Because he couldn't love you, not the way you are loved."

That's all I've got for now. Not bad, considering that I was tempted to write a quick sentence stating that I agreed with Brandon and Jeff and be done with it.

March, so far, has been another slow month. I've watched a couple of episodes of Smallville Season 6 (last night's episode introduced us to Oliver Queen!). Besides Lonely, the only other feature that I've watched is Anthony Mann's Border Incident. I should write about how it shares some themes with Lonely, but, honestly, I didn't like Border Incident enough to care. It comes across as preachy/didactic in its toughness in a way that Lonely never does. So far, these Mann titles have been hit or miss with me. Two O'Clock Courage and Desperate? YES! The Black Book and Border Incident? NO!

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