Sunday, July 22, 2018

I keep noticing I'm not a big fan of 70s westerns

I've stated quite a few times in the past that westerns were never my favorite genre, although as I've watched more in the decade that I've been doing this blog I've found quite a few that I really like. I've also come to realize that the "revisionist" (I think I'd prefer to use the term "non-traditional") westerns of the 1970s really aren't my cup of tea. Another movie that helped clarify that for me is Jeremiah Johnson.

Robert Redford plays Johnson, a man who shows up in a small town at the edge of civilization in Colorado of the 1840s, looking for a way to get out of civilization entirely and live a subsistence life in the Rockies, hopefully making extra money from trapping. It's not an easy life, as he's going to learn first when a Flathead Indian comes up on him, and then when he meets veteran trapper Bear Claw (Will Geer). Johnson lives with Bear Claw for a while and realizes just how much there is to learn about this harsh existence.

There's another meeting with a woman who lost her husband to an attack from the Crow Indians, resulting in him taking custody of the kid, and then a meetin with Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch). Del Gue's friendship leads to Jeremiah being saddled with an Indian wife Swan (Delle Bolton), although perhaps the kid Caleb could use a mother. In any case, the three unlikely blended family members try to make a life for themselves.

Then the cavalry comes through. They're looking for a way to get at a group of settlers who need saving. The trip is going to go through sacred Crow burial grounds, which Johnson knows is something you absolutely detour around, but the idiot cavalry insist on saving time by going through. Sure enough, the Crow respond by killing Swan and Caleb. This leads Jeremiah to go on a revenge spree against the Crow.

I said at the beginning that I don't like the term "revisionist western", mostly because I can like a movie that has a different view of history or politics than I do if the story is good enough. The problem that I've found myself having with these 70s westerns that go off in a new direction from your traditional western is that the technical production is done in a way I generally find unappealing. Jeremiah Johnson is very slow. While I don't have a problem with episodic movies, Jeremiah Johnson comes a bit too close to plotless for me. And there's also the 1970s cinematography. Somewhere along the way better zoom lenses came along, and moviemakers in the 1960s and 1970s started zooming not because it served an artistic purpose but because they could. Or at least, it seems like that to me. These zooms always seem jarring to me, and pointless in terms of storytelling.

Still, a lot of people love Jeremiah Johnson, and it is generally technically well made, so this and other movies in the genre are definitely ones you should check out for yourself.

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