Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.
The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)
Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)
That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.
I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)
Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.