In Robert Altman‘s stunning, dreamily haunting piece of anti western melancholia McCabe & Mrs. Miller, two lost souls wander out from unseen former lives into the rugged, barely tamed Canadian Pacific Northwest and attempt to carve out their slice of enterprise from a vast, unforgiving environment. Warren Beatty’s John McCabe is a shrewd yet caustic entrepreneur whose sense of romanticism is dwindling like the stars at dawn, a man who plans to capitalize on the wants and desires of the townsfolk of frontier settlement Presbyterian Church by tent-poling a successful local whorehouse. Julie Christie’s Constance Miller is a forlorn, sharp tongued opportunist bereft of any wistful innocence, her piercing, deep set blue eyes peering out from a thicket of gingerbread curls, scanning the horizon for lucrative endeavours. Both of them seem to arrive in the Northwest as if from another dimension; no backstory save for unfounded rumours, no goals except for capitalist monopoly and no sense of wonder or lyricism save for the few shiny flecks that haven’t been rinded down by the harshness of their lives, like mountains plundered for precious gold until not but scant flakes remain amongst weathered, weary crags. They team up as any person with a good head for business will concede to do, and before they know it they’re making a pretty penny… until big money mining interests try to muscle them out. Altman shows here how capitalism was a precursor to violence and corruption even in the early days of this continent and is successful in getting across his themes but for me the real treasures of this film lie in cinematography, tangible sense of character and mood. Christie and Beatty probably give career best performances as two hardened pioneers of commerce who collectively arrive at the end of each of their respective journeys in the saddest, mournfully poetic fashions imaginable. I wish I knew these two individuals before the world made them the way they are and the snowdrifts settled into the final acts of their arc because they’re two wonderful, well rounded and unique characters. Filling out a solid supporting cast are the likes of the late Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, William Devane, John Schlick, Michael Murphy, a very young Shelley Duvall and more. Altman uses unbelievably evocative wilderness photography to tell story and several aching, poignant songs by Leonard Cohen to bookend his film. It’s tough to capture the essence of this thing in a review, one has to let it wash over you, let it murmur in your ear for two hours as wood doors slam, horse drawn carriages trundle through muddy streets, wind whispers through tree lines, characters move in and out with organic disorganization like moths to and from firelight and McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s sad, introspective, beautifully ponderous story plays out. Sensational film.
Irvin Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars is one bizarre film. Overall it really does not work, like it stands obstinately in WTF territory with its arms crossed, refusing to let either it’s a talented cast, lavish production design or unusual premise spur it on to greatness, despite the fact that parts of it work in fits and starts. From a screenplay by none other than John Carpenter, Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a controversial fashion photographer whose work has attracted the attention of a serial killer that starts staging their crimes after the photos she takes. Stranger still, every time our murderer goes for a move, she is suddenly tuned in to what he’s doing via his eyes, as if a clairvoyant. What a concept, right? Well I bet Carpenter had a few things to say about how they butchered his idea, they should have just given him creative control over the thing. Dunaway is a fantastic actress, she has a stately Sigourney Weaver vibe and her eyes are soulful fissures that do lend themselves to a story this intense, but she can’t do much with her role, as Laura’s ultimate culminated worth is a glorified scream queen. Anywho, the murders get the attention of police detective Tommy Lee Jones, and let me tell you I didn’t think he was ever this young. I’m aware that this was 1978, but to me Jones is one of those sagely actors like Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliott who seems to have always been old and just sprung out of the ground already wise, weathered n’ weary. The horror elements clash with a ridiculously hokey romance subplot between him and Dunaway that barrels in from farthest left field, feels artificially paced and undeveloped, an insult to both the intelligence of the audience and the integrity of Dunaway’s character, but I spied notoriously loopy producer Jon Peter’s name in the credits so maybe he had something to do with that. They would have been better off spending more time developing the pleasant camaraderie between Laura and her lovable entourage, which is one aspect that really works. The supporting cast/list of suspects also includes an awkward Raul Julia as Laura’s ex husband, her flamboyant agent (Rene Auberjonois) and a fantastic, scene stealing Brad Dourif in an early career role as her scrappy limo driver assistant. It sucks because the film has beautiful production design; Laura’s photography has an elaborate, provocative edge, the New York fashion scene and street-side elements are captured neatly and her ornate bedroom looks like a spaceship that Kubrick designed, but all that verdant personality is wasted on a story that’s so silly it hurts. Nothing is satisfactorily wrapped up, and the final twist is so lame that I couldn’t figure out if it was because that outcome hadn’t really been done before 1978 all that much and I’m just too young or simply because it was laaaaaame in itself. There’s a jittery score by Artie Kane that works and echoes stuff like Bernard Hermann, so there’s that I guess, plus game performances by Dunaway, Auberjonois and Dourif, but their effort really deserved better. This goes nowhere, and what’s worse, takes its sweet time getting there.