Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) - Clint really does not like governent

Viewing context:
Part of my Clint Eastwood Box Set binge for my last birthday. None have let me down yet. Ones like this, that both star and are directed by Eastwood are just a class above.

Directed by the man himself Clint Eastwood. Screenplay by Philip Kaufman (who wrote the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark) and helped by Sonia Chemus. Interesting that it has a female influence, considering how strong the female characters in the film are.

What Happened:
Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) appears as a humble family man living off the land. Caught up in the civil war, his family is killed in the opening scene by a particularly feral unit fighting for the Union. His journey of vengeance leads him to enlist with the confederate until the war is over, at which point he refuses to turn himself in; he refuses to live in society. The unit that killed his family are sent to hunt him down, but this only works in his favour, as his vengeance has still not been exacted.

The film was so clearly about myth and reputation; of the ability to write a future out of half truths. The western, itself a mythic creation of history (In my humble experience, Eastwood both gets this and exploits it better and more consistently than any other filmmaker). On top of this meta-level of mythology, it is supported in the text when everyone tells differing and excessive stories of Wales.
Eastwood used this mythic quality to attack his conception of the intrusive, overbearing and immoral government, favouring what he sees as society that without government, naturally operates in much more a peaceful and harmonious manner. I.e. the culturally diverse social concoction that the film depicts near the end, away from government, greed and profiteering. They weren't the staunch businessmen that he had previously spat on and left. They had ran out of commerce (symbolised as booze) long since and still enjoyed that emblematic social chronotope of the saloon. This society was somewhere between what had developed as established western culture, yet had ethics associated with the native American: self sustaining, take only as much as you need and contribute fairly. An ideal (I would say naive) idea of individual liberalism.
As the film was made just after the Vietnam war, a war that is part of America’s attempt to write history by force, in favour of their values, then the American civil war was an appropriate allagorical setting. It shows how a war is no way to crush opposing ethics and ideologies; these things must come together (or fall apart) organically as Eastwoods rag-tag outlaws do in this film.

What it did particularly well:
There were small details that were so succinct and took up so little film time for what they conveyed; it was masterful direction. Small touches, like when Wales is taking his son to be buried, his arm falls out while he's dragging it; such heartbreak in such little time. There was another example that quickly and simply conveyed how elite Wales was in his field and how in tune with nature he was, he used a little trick to lay their horses down in order to stay hidden.
The film featured some interesting and non-passive women. Though the women did appear to need his saving, they were far from passive and more than willing to defend the home. I understand that this point can be read as reinforcing the need for women to support the home, whilst Wales, the man, can come and go as he chooses. Although having even said that, at least the women seem sure of themselves and confident in what they choose; it is wales who is in any way fractured.

What unimpressed or didn't quite reach potential:
I’m not even going to answer this.

Performance of the film:
Chief Dan George as the aging, wandering native American who was a real, multi-dimensional person. A human being, not just a native American stock typecast character, nor a direct opposition to this. Just an interesting character.

Scene of the film:
The scene that really embodied what Wales was all about, including the emphasis on myth was his one on one conversation with Ten Bears. It was so honest and genuine, cutting through the sort of bullshit that can be so often be taken for granted in established western culture; the type of bullshit that embodies the idea of government that Wales was trying desparately to escape.

Final Word:
So knowingly steeped in mythology and able to play around with all the motifs that go along with this. On top of this it is beautifully shot to capture all the spectacle involved in the western myth. The characters were varied and interesting and there were some heavyweight performances with both grandeur and depth.

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