Friday, March 20, 2015

Camden, 2014
Thursday, March 19, 2015
"In the end their bid for fortune becomes a death march. We see a black vulture drifting overhead, biding its time. A settler falls, exhausted and dehydrated. The Cayuse sings a funeral chant over him. The other settlers look on not with the Christian contempt we’ve come to expect but a numb resignation that might be respect.
Then the party comes to a lone tree in a dell. The music shimmers with portent; it’s a dream landscape. In its last scene, like those of 2001, La Dolce Vita, or Barton Fink, Meek’s Cutoff shifts levels from the naturalistic to the overtly symbolic.
Another bird as bad omen. The tree: salvation or ruin?
'A tree can’t grow without water,' says one of the men hopefully. And indeed the tree at first seems like a symbol of hope; Solomon holds a branch with berries tenderly in his hand, reminiscent of the branch the dove brought back after the flood. But the tree is also an eerily ambiguous image: only its lower half is alive and green; its upper branches are dead and bare. Is it an omen of salvation or ruin? Is the Indian leading them to water or a slaughter? 'We’re close, but we don’t know what to,' says one settler. This is not just a story about one lost wagon train, but a parable about a dying civilization come to a moment of fateful choice, a fork in the road, like Curtis La Forche’s.
When someone appeals to him for advice, Stephen Meek says a bizarre and utterly unexpected thing:
'I’m taking my orders from you now, Mr. Tetherow, Mrs. Tetherow. And we’re all taking our orders from him [nodding toward the Cayuse], I’d say. We’re all just playin’ our parts now. This was written long before we got here. I’m at your command.'
He seems to speak with a voice and a wisdom not his own. His braggadocio is emptied out; Meek finally lives up to his name. The film’s title doesn’t refer to the place-name in Oregon or some movie-Western maneuver, but the point at which Stephen Meek’s power is revoked. After all his boasts and threats and promises, our patriarchal leader, having led us to the brink of extinction, has finally admitted failure, ceding his authority to those who’ve so far been kept subservient and voiceless: a woman, who’s assumed moral leadership of the party, and an aboriginal, who goes on ahead, little caring whether we follow. Those long relegated to the margins now assume center stage."


Monday, March 16, 2015


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