Sunday, October 5, 2014

Known, Unknown

Somebody knows me really well, as noted here.    Russell hit pretty much all my sweet spots with that one.  But on the Robert Duvall interview that's circulating he missed the boat badly. 

The disagreement between us is over whether Duvall's movie Tender Mercies is a Western.   

In the yes column:

1)  The movie is as much about Duvall's Mac being redeemed by the Slater Mill boys as it is about his being redeemed by Tess Harper's Rosa Lee. 

2)  The movie is also about Mac being redeemed by Alan Hubbard's Sonny.  

So far it sounds like the plot of Red River.  And since the Western is almost always about men's love for other men (sometimes negotiated through women) this makes total sense as a Western.  But wait there's more:

3)  The Western landscape is itself a character in the movie. 

All those shots of prairie, isolation, and wind.  Really how could anybody doubt it. 

In the no column. 

1)  The movie is modern? 

Maybe I'm missing some things - let me know in the comments.

And oh yes, my students are convinced that RAF is the most elaborate catfish every created, just because we have never met in real life.  I tried to explain to them that lots of people met online back in the late 1990s and early 2000s at places like Invisible Adjunct and 11D but they don't believe me.  Hell, Erik Loomis of LGM once had to remind me that we had been a panel together well before we started interacting online.  I'd totally forgotten.  The world is a very strange place. 


  1. You're reading way too much into my response, David. When I said "Tender Mercies isn't a western," my point was simply that it was never marketed, nor ever received, as a western--primarily, one must suppose, because it doesn't have any horses or cowboys in it. But, as I also said, I think the particular way it handles the motifs of sin-redemption gives it purchase on the power of the classic western narrative. That is, the sinner is that way in part because of civilization; redemption comes to him from fleeing into the wilderness, though by so doing civilization--often religion, but just as often it's female domesticity (frequently--as you correctly note--mediated through other men) is brought with him. Tender Mercies definitely makes use of those narrative tropes, as did (as I also argued) The Apostle. But just because something makes thoughtful, implicit use of a narrative structure doesn't mean it should be labeled alongside all the movies which make use of it explicitly. I mean, Star Wars was obviously a kind of space western, but nobody has ever called Star Wars a "western" simpliciter, have they?

  2. Yes, but Star Wars is not set in the West with the landscape as a character. Since it was barely marketed at all (grossing only 8 million on a tiny theatrical release), I don't think we can discuss that. I've shown it a number of times in classes as a Western, and most of the folks I discussed it with at Michigan considered it one. Maybe we can get Loomis and SEK to weigh in.