Victor’s dad (Gary Farmer!) leaves, never comes back, dies a decade later. So sullen teenage Victor takes an interstate trip to see where he died, collect his ashes, meet dad’s girlfriend (Irene Bedard), that sort of thing. He is joined by an overenthusiastic nerdy neighbor Thomas, and they mostly ride by bus on the way down, and drive dad’s truck back.

References: Gary Farmer asks Victor who’s his favorite Indian, Victor repeatedly yells “Nobody“… and Thomas is said to be obsessed with Dances With Wolves, which featured Victor’s mom Tantoo Cardinal. A journey/road trip/family secrets drama that sometimes feels standard-issue, but has some standout technical moments (moving from the lead actors to their flashback-younger-selves without cutting, indicating that the past is always present) and an unusually strong ending, with Gary unforgiven and Victor dealing with a mess of emotions.

Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

One of Fuller’s final-shot ruminations – that the moment a war ends, killing turns from a heroic act into a criminal one. Feeling oppressed by the North and betrayed by his own losing side, an Irish-Confederate soldier (Rod Steiger, warmonger general of Mars Attacks!) joins a Sioux tribe against all whites. He gets guidance from doomed scout Walking Coyote (Jay Flippen, father-figure crook in The Killing), falls for a girl called Yellow Mocassin (Spanish superstar Sara Montiel, overdubbed by Angie Dickinson), and tricks suspicious Sioux warrior Crazy Wolf. A bunch of whites-vs-natives twists and betrayals later, Steiger and Moccasin leave the tribe, deciding to try their hand with the new USA instead.

Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker plays the Union officer shot twice by the same bullet (long story), and “newcomer Charles Bronson” plays a Sioux chief. There were actual Sioux players in the film, but relegated to smaller roles.

Sam:

The boys at RKO loved my yarn and gave me a green light to produce the picture the way I wanted. Indians would be depicted as a community of people with their own rules and rituals, not – as in most studio movies – like a pack of marauding killers. .. I think [Rod Steiger] earned more on that picture than I did. After all, I was only the writer, director and coproducer.

Like Reichart’s last two movies, this is a bare sketch of a story. The cinematography is better, the film stock is less grainy, and there are more name actors joining Michelle Williams and Will Patton (both returning from Wendy and Lucy), including Paul “There Will Be Blood” Dano and the great Shirley Henderson from Yes.

Eventually the viewer picks up that a small wagon train (three families) is being led by a paid guide named Meek (Bruce Greenwood, guy who hires Kirk in the Star Trek remake), who seems to be lost. Action is shown somewhat from the women’s point of view, so when the men converse, making big decisions that affect our trip, they don’t get to participate much, until the semi-liberated Williams starts butting in. The group’s fresh water supply is running out when they capture an Indian who’s been following them, and the men appoint him their guide instead of Meek. One family’s wagon is destroyed when traversing a hill, and the others pitch in to help, but nobody is ever shot, or even gets sick – unusual for a Western. The Indian leads them to a large tree, someone points out that water must be nearby, he wanders off unchallenged, end of movie.

It’s a weird choice, that ending, so to understand the screenwriting I turned to T. Stempel’s column “Understanding Screenwriting.”

I heard a sound from the audience I can’t recall ever having heard before. They laughed, and they seemed to be laughing at themselves for having been taken in for 100 minutes by a movie that is not even going to bother finish telling the story it started out to tell.

So he doesn’t know either, but it seems to me like a self-consciously indie thing to do, a Cache move, as if the director thinks her film will be less artistic if she gives us too much information. Anyway, Stempel also says “the picture is slow, which makes sense because journeying by covered wagon was slow,” but it’s not as slow as Old Joy. I don’t suppose I’ve fallen in love with any of her three films so far, but I always enjoy the experience enough to turn up for the next one. EDIT: upon reflection, years later, I think about them lots, about their look and their moods, and so I suppose I do love them after all.

FITZCARRALDO (1982, Werner Herzog)

Klaus Kinski (the year after starring in Terayama Shuji’s Fruits of Passion) acts less crazy than usual as Fitz, though he’s still got that hair. And of course, his crazy actions speak for themselves. Fitz loves opera, especially the singer Caruso, whose records he collects (which places the action somewhere 1905-1915ish) and wants to build an opera house where he lives in Iquitos, Peru, but investors won’t be convinced.

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So Fitz decides to make a fortune as a rubber baron, and build his own damned opera house. Gets his brothel-running girlfriend Claudia Cardinale (over a decade after her heyday in Once Upon a Time in the West, 8 1/2, The Leopard) to front him a steamboat and claims an unharvested plot of riverfront land in the jungle. It’s unharvested because nobody can reach it… it lies upstream from dangerous rapids. But even further upstream, another river veers within half a mile of the river in question, so Fitz plans to sail up THAT (dangerous-native-infested) river, drag his boat onto land across into the other river and harvest his rubber.

Claudia Cardinale:
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Along with a half-blind but navigationally-keen captain, a drunken chef, and a mechanic (Miguel Ángel Fuentes, fresh from playing the mystical indian sidekick in Puma Man) who’s openly spying on Fitz for his competitors, Fitz makes it to the crossing and with the help of hundreds of natives, drags his 30-ton ship over a damned muddy mountain and into the other river. That night, after the drunken celebration party, the natives cut the ship loose as a sacrifice to the rapids, undoing months of work. In a wonderfully bittersweet finale, with what’s left of his capital Fitz hires the opera to come to Iquitos and perform from the ship.

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Shot realistically, naturally taking its time to unfold. Herzog’s/Fitz’s ambition is immeasurable, and so a mere two hours cannot contain it. Movie doesn’t seem long so much as… huge. Actors speak English, dubbed into German and subtitled back into English.

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Hey wow, it was shot by the guy who did Orson Welles: One Man Band, which is the other movie I considered watching tonight. He also shot bunches of Alexander Kluge films.


WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE (1980, Les Blank)

“I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking”

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Oh man, this was great… first of all because Werner is my hero, here being smart and funny and provocative, and second because Les keeps it lively with a circus atmosphere, bringing in clips of Herzog movies, The Gold Rush, and a Gates of Heaven outtake. Fitzcarraldo was in pre-production, and Les would follow Werner into that venture, filming…


BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982, Les Blank)

“If I abandoned this project I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that.”

One of the most amazing docs I have seen, and essential viewing with Fitzcarraldo. Shows and tells the factors that made that film define “troubled production”, making Terry Gilliam and Francis Ford Coppola look like pansies in comparison. Attacks and intimidation by natives (their camp is burned down, a spear attack injures three), losing both stars of the film (post-Melvin and Howard Jason Robards and pre-Tattoo You Mick Jagger) and the actual pulling of a 30-ton steamship over a mountain by natives doesn’t even cover the whole story.

Burden of Dreams:
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Fitzcarraldo:
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On-set tantrums by a bored Klaus Kinski aren’t in this film (presumably they’re covered in My Best Fiend). This doc itself is wonderfully well-paced and shot, and Les gets choice interviews with Herzog, including his oft-quoted bit about how the jungle birds don’t sing, “they just screech in pain.” Taken as a package, Fitz and Burden are the rare cult films which exceed their reputation.

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From Paul Arthur’s Criterion essay:

When production stalls, as it often does—Herzog claims his film is “cursed,” admitting that “the jungle is winning”—Blank filters in lively scenes of the Campa extras’ quotidian routines: food preparation, clothes washing, the blending of a local alcoholic drink made from yuca plants. It is significant that most activities are “women’s work,” a realm that Herzog’s masculinist vision rarely acknowledges. Later, Blank constructs a touching vision of cross-cultural identification by juxtaposing the sound of a Caruso aria coming from a record player in an earlier shot with loving close-ups of native women, as if they are responding to the beauty of this alien voice. The moment recalls an archetypal collision staged by romantic adventurer Robert Flaherty in Nanook of the North (1922), when the titular Eskimo marvels at a phonograph record (then jokingly decides to bite it). Unlike either Herzog or Flaherty, Blank clearly prefers the rhythms of collective effort, of sensuous community, over Eurocentric ideals of heroic individualism. In essence, he has crafted a film about the interaction of premodern tribal existence with European modernity, epitomized by a movie narrative about the invidious clash of brute nature and a singular ego bent on his own, ultimately delusional, mission of cultural enlightenment.