13 April 2011

"What's wrong with these pictures?"

The first image above is of the character name Meek, in Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” just released – I suspect to a fast BO swoon, to speak Varietese. In the story he’s a grizzled guide, wild-man of the west. However in the image, he is fresh out of something like Hollywood costumes, with a thin patina of showbiz “dirt” gracing his buckskin outfit, though we notice his purse is untainted with anything so vile. As someone who lived “rough” for five years in rural Oregon and Montana (no electricity, no running water, no money) I can assure you, out of experience, that a mere week or two of such living makes your clothes a lot dirtier than those seen in these images. Meek is an ostensible frontier mountain-man and his purse should be dark with oil and fat as well as smoke from fires and just plain dirt, all well attracted by the greasy base, as would be his buckskin clothes (which one doesn’t wash). In the next pictures the clothes are so spick-and-span they look incongruous next to the theatrical “dirty faces” make-up job on the actors (which, again, for anyone with experience reads false as to how faces and skin really get dirty – dirt is most visible in wrinkles, where it gathers and stays).

Which then makes one wonder about the rest of the matter at hand, a “story” set in the out back of Oregon’s Eastern desert, which apparently weaves in supposedly true-grit Americana, echoes of “cowboy” movies (which were often shot on transparently false Hollywood sets, or conversely set in real western places, like Monument Valley, where no one lived except for the weakest Indian tribes, forced by circumstances to such inhospitable climes), and then sub-textually of present-day concerns about just how we are. Meek’s Cutoff is a so-called “independent” film, relatively low-budgeted, and yet it persists in the usual historical drama of getting all the gritty details of history wrong while purporting to set itself in that reality. Sounds like it also has a sort of feminist angle. Why not just admit one doesn’t know a damned thing about this and either go Kabuki, a totally obvious theatrical falsity, from which curiously truth can emerge, or just stick to contemporary which one might have a clue about. The images above (confirmed by a few glances of clips from the film) just underline that movie people know very little about the real world, and in turn any truths they might seem to uncover become suspect.

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