This unorthodox dream western by Robert Altman may be the most radically beautiful film to come out of the New American Cinema. It stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as newcomers to a raw Pacific Northwest mining town, who join forces to provide the miners with a superior whorehouse experience.
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Seen at the Castro Theater on 35mm, in tribute to the great DP Vilmos Zsigmond. It wouldn't do to peg this simply an "anti-western"—yes, Altman expressed distaste for the genre, and yes, he shows the west as a cutthroat, unhygienic place. But he also allows moments of beauty and community I'd take over anything in Ford, for an allegory about how unkind the USA can be for the bluffers and nice guys who can't hack it.
Altman was almost like the anti-cinema and this anti-western is absolutely stunning. The extraordinary cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond is on display here too. If you ask what makes Altman so great, it's his ability to make things seem real and then remind you that you're still watching a movie.
This parable of the death of private enterprise at the hands of ruthless corporate interests is apposite in the setting of the American Wild West, perhaps because big business and the American frontier are so inextricably linked. The railways and the mines swallow the whorehouses and stores which once served them, and the frontier expands ever onwards...
The Senator and the "Bear" hunter were the only personalities I even cared about in this one. "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" had close to zero personality, even though Beatty and Christie were just fine. It had an overall muddy visual package, but the worst part of it by far was the ABSOLUTELY GRATING "narration" via song that soiled the mood EVERY time it played. Nice visuals at the end aside, this movie absolutely sucked.
A grimy, dirty western that ultimately feels authentic. Everything is wet and muddy, which I am guessing is a more accurate portrayal of the conditions of the American west than what is often seen elsewhere. And that closing sequence is nearly perfect.
This movie has poetry in its bones. If you put Godard and Antonioni in bed together, put a gun to their heads, and told them to fuck, you have "McCabe and Mrs. Miller". It's "Breathless" in the old west. It's Altman's best film.