Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: Short Takes Vol. 1

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Clearly I’m getting behind on the New Hollywood marathon; I’ve actually been watching a good bit, but not finding the right things to say to write about them. So I’m just going to lump together some short thoughts on the films that didn’t inspire me to write a whole post about, or films that others reviewed or are planning to review.

The Graduate

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This is one of the few films on this marathon’s master list that I’ve seen before, but I wanted to rewatch it because I was pretty sure I had missed something the first time around. That first time, I was just barely eighteen and was sure that college would sort out any remaining lack of certainty I had about my future career and life. Four years later, it hadn’t, and I found myself, like Benjamin Braddock, unsure what to do after graduation and drifting a bit, trying to find something to latch onto. I think when I first saw it, I had difficulty understanding Benjamin’s indecision and willingness to just float along after graduating, basically falling into an affair with Mrs. Robinson (the wife of his father’s business partner) because he didn’t have much else better to do. This time, it all worked and fit together much better for me.

The inclusion of Simon and Garfunkel songs was perfect, and made me think about how influential The Graduate, with its detached main character, soundtrack, and mood, has been on films since – especially Indiewood quirky coming-of-age stories. Half of R3 will strangle me for saying this, but there seems a strong connection to Garden State (though even I would agree that The Graduate is a stronger film). My only beef is that the Berkeley sequence, when Benjamin goes to try to win Elaine, loses some interest and waffles a bit too much. On the other hand, the very last shot that’s often berated (by some) is exactly right.

M*A*S*H and McCabe and Mrs. Miller after the jump.

M*A*S*H

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Before now I’ve never seen M*A*S*H, or the TV show based on it, either. Apparently missing the show is some kind of cultural crime, but oh well. Anyway, my major thought while watching this episodic tale of irreverent Army surgeons during the Korean War was that this is the cinematic equivalent to the novel Catch-22, and in fact makes Mike Nichols’ film version of Catch-22 rather pointless. I watched that film a few years ago after loving the book, and was severely underwhelmed. But even though the details between M*A*S*H and Catch-22 are quite different, the tone is very similar, and I think Altman did a much better job of capturing that tone and feeling in M*A*S*H. Yeah, that’s really all I got, right now at least. I quite enjoyed it, but I feel like I need another rewatch or two to get a good handle on everything going on, given the film’s episodic structure and ensemble cast.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

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David wrote a full review for this, which I pretty much agree with. It’s a bit of a difficult film to get into initially (and the initial audience in 1971 didn’t get into it, apparently; according to Biskind, it was the first major flop of New Hollywood), but as the film unfolded, I found myself more and more drawn into the quiet rhythms and gentle characterizations of the story. Meanwhile, the way Altman is playing with the tropes of the western genre is fascinating – creating nearly an anti-western. Obviously a western in setting and trappings and even plot elements, but doing almost the exact opposite with each element than a traditional western would. McCabe isn’t a hero, nor a villain – he’s ineffectual and somewhat cowardly throughout. The final shootout takes place as a long, drawn-out game of hide-and-seek more than anything else, and is actually overshadowed by other goings on in the town. The major conflict isn’t over honor or justice, but business and greed on both sides.

It’s a film that as highly as I’m rating it now, will likely only grow in my estimation over time and rewatching, because so much is in the nuances rather than the action. Also because due to Altman’s stubbornness and the studio’s desire to get finished with the film, the sound was never recorded or cleaned up properly, so the first time through, I had to spend a good deal of energy just trying to follow the story; the second, third, fourth, etc. watches won’t have that issue.

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David Brook
Admin

Yeah, again my thoughts exactly on McCabe. That audio mix is brutal, I actually put the subtitles on for a bit just to help me along! It's definitely on my 'watch again' list.

The Graduate took me 2 viewings to really appreciate it too, my first viewing was pre-university so I didn't quite get it. M*A*S*H is one I've seen a couple of times, but not for a while. I've got an unwatched DVD copy sat on my shelf, so I should revisit it soon. Like you, I've always liked it, but it never blew me away, it's episodic nature makes it a little underwhelming at times. Still it's a very good film though.

kurt
Guest

Ha. I'm also a dunce in that I've not seen M*A*S*H or The Graduate. I'm rather familiar with the TV Show version of the former though.

And yea, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is almost a 'hanging out' movie with its particular pace. I love it. (A note on the visual aesthetics – which are incredible – we want more snow-bound WESTERNS please! The Great Silence, a section of The Searchers, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller simply are not enough).

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Until the 2010 Superbowl, if I'm not mistaken, the final episode of TVs M*A*S*H was the highest number of viewers, EVER (according to the Neilson benchmarking – no idea on the accuracy of that, but there you have it). I certainly remember watching the show when it was still on the air in the early 1980s.

rot
Guest

If I can do my Billy Wilder homework with Double Indemnity than you Kurt need to do you Mike Nichols homework, The Graduate is all kinds of awesome.

huh, I didn't know McCabe was an Altman film, now higher on my list of things to watch

rot
Guest

I do want to watch it still, and just got some free dvd rentals so plan to rent Badlands and Carnal Knowledge within the week… hopefully will be able to write something about both.

my life right now is absorbed by The Staircase… everything you have heard about it is true, such an engrossing doc series.

Bob Turnbull
Admin

I agree with everything you said about McCabe, but it just isn't a film that I enjoyed much. Partially due to Beatty's character, partially the depressing Cohen soundtrack. Not that I think either should be changed – that flips the film entirely – but it's one of my least favourite Altman films.

It certainly isn't a cultural crime to have missed the TV series MASH (it became less funny and more preachy as time went on), but I can't help but still feel a bit surprised when someone says they haven't seen it. That's purely a personal reaction though, since when I was young it was still on the air AND in syndication. So I think I've seen every episode multiple times. The film disappointed me the first time, but I latched on to its rhythms better second time through when I understood what an Altman film was like. As for Catch-22, I haven't read the book (another cultural crime?), but loved the film.

I can understand your reaction to Carnal Knowledge Jandy – it's not a fun film. I kinda hated both those guys. But I suppose that's not a bad thing when it comes to the film.

David Brook
Admin

I've not seen M*A*S*H the series either, although I'm aware of it's popularity. It was a little before my time too I guess and to be honest I'm not sure it was as big in the UK.

As for not having read Catch-22 shame on you, get thee to a bookshop! 🙂

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