DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Acid Westerns Day (Restated)

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‘The term “acid Western” was first used by Pauline Kael in her 1971 review of El Topo. The film had just received its formal premiere after having played for some six months straight at a shabby theater in downtown New York named the Elgin, at which it received essentially no advertising and played exclusively at midnight. Nevertheless, the film did peculiarly strong business and became a curious fixation. El Topo was pulled from the Elgin and armed with a national distributor who aimed to replicate its success in other U.S. cities. Its belated premiere, at a theater in Times Square in November of 1971, is when Kael and other critics from the mainstream press would see the film for the first time, and it is here where they found themselves amid the film’s most integral component: its audience, perceptibly under the influence of some mind-altering substance.

‘For Kael the acid Western was a derogatory allusion to the pothead audience that extolled the film—an audience she admittedly did not belong to. In her review she expends many words in describing those in attendance with her, whom she observes unjudgementally but alertly, as one would animals at a zoo. J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum elaborate on the phenomenon in their 1980 book Midnight Movies, in which an entire chapter is devoted to El Topo:

Although hip film buffs objected to El Topo’s graceless amalgam of Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Jean-Luc Godard, the movie bypassed cinematic sophistication to address the counterculture directly.

‘Rosenbaum reprised the term in his review of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film, Dead Man, and in conjunction with Kael’s writing delineated the rough parameters of the makeshift subgenre. For Rosenbaum the acid Western refers to Jarmusch’s film foremost, and retroactively to a slew of films from the late 60s and early 70s that share Jarmusch’s inversion of the Western formula. These films generally posit an individualist journey that ends not in triumph but often in suffering and death—a narrative trajectory Dead Man summates in its very title. Rosenbaum elaborated thusly:

What I partly mean by ‘acid Westerns’ are revisionist Westerns in which American history is reinterpreted to make room for peyote visions and related hallucinogenic experiences, LSD trips in particular. […] Both ‘acid Westerns’ and ‘pot Westerns’ depend on reevaluations of white and nonwhite experience that view certain countercultural habits and styles in relation to models derived from Westerns, but where they differ most, perhaps, is in their generational biases, which lead them respectively to overturn or ironically revise the relevant generic norms.

‘At the time of their conception, acid Westerns extended the already-incipient trend of Western revisionism that was underway in Hollywood, sometimes by the genre’s most popular and radical practitioners. The most abrasive of these would be Sam Peckinpah, whose 1969 The Wild Bunch itself appealed to the counterculture’s more politicized faction for its potency as an analogy of violence in Vietnam. “The Western is a universal frame,” Peckinpah remarked, “within which it’s possible to comment on today.” Traditionally, the Western was an index of America’s exceptionalism, a document of the U.S.’s imperialistic growth. Acid Westerns are a response to this tactic, in that they’re generally more concerned with the suppression and hostility enacted to facilitate that growth. The first and purist examples were made in the late 60s, in which the counter-culture asserted a brief yet emphatic hold on the Hollywood machine.

‘This audience engendered the success of films in which heroes were decidedly anti-authoritative (The Graduate) and their plights strewn in prejudiced opposition (Easy Rider). But unlike its mainstream counterparts, the acid Western caters more specifically to a bohemian audience befitted by the influence of a hallucinogenic substance of some sort, the same audience that would give birth to the ritual of the midnight movie in the 70s. It is in this regard that the acid Western is exemplified in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Kael describes the film’s phenomenon as such:

Jodorowsky has come up with something new: exploitation filmmaking joined to sentimentality—the sentimentality of the counter-culture. They mix frighteningly well: for the counter-culture violence is romantic and shock is beautiful, because extremes of feeling and lack of control are what one takes drugs for. What has has been happening, I think, is that the counter-culture has begun to look for the equivalent of a drug trip in its theatrical experiences. I think it still responds to non-head movies if there’s a possibility of direct identification with the characters, but increasingly movies appear to be valued only for their intensity.

‘This “intensity” is a response to the violence in Jodorowsky’s film, but in a general sense it describes the tone of a true acid Western: a film that amalgamates the violent with the absurd in such a way that the result, to a specific audience, achieves a certain profundity.’ — Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming

 

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Further

Special Monte Hellman issue of ‘La furia umana’
The Mondo Esoterica Guide to: Sergio Corbucci
Andy Warhol Films
The Shrine to Don Knotts
Sam Peckinpah @ Senses of Cinema
Pagina Oficial de Alejandro Jodorowsky
‘Zachariah: The Quintessinal Hippie Movie’
Audio: Listen to Robert Altman discuss his career
‘Luc Moullet, a Bootleg Filmmaker’
The Films of Robert Downey Sr. @ Persistence of Vision
In Praise of Michael J. Pollard
Westworld Headed Back to the Screen
‘THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE: An analysis of philosophical themes in Clint Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
Lady of the Cake: A Mel Brooks Site
‘Rancho Deluxe’ @ The Internet Movie Database
Welcome to Arthur Penn Fansite

 

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Responding to some questions about “Acid Westerns”

 

We’re approaching the acid Western as if it could satisfy a chapter in your book, Midnight Movies. At the time of its writing, how might you and J. Hoberman have denominated the films that have retroactively become known as acid Westerns (The Shooting, Greaser’s Palace, The Last Movie, El Topo, et al.)?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: I can’t speak for Jim Hoberman. As nearly as I can remember, I simply coined the phrase in order to group together several countercultural westerns — which included, by the way, some of the novels of Rudy Wurlitzer as well as some movies.

The first instance I’ve found of the term “acid Western” occurs in Pauline Kael’s review of El Topo in 1971, and she employs it in derogatory fashion, alluding to the pothead audience that extolled the film — an audience she admittedly did not belong to. Being that your use of the term is more academic, do you think that the acid Western was meant to be viewed under the influence of hallucinogenic substances?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Maybe Kael used the term before I did and I unconsciously borrowed it. I certainly was a pothead in that period, but I probably disliked El topo as much as she did. I don’t know what you mean by “more academic,” unless maybe you mean more thoughtful or accurate. But since Kael or I coined the term, I can’t see how one can ascribe intentionality to the Westerns she or I or both of us might have been talking about. “Meant to be”? I don’t get that. But yes, some of these movies–as well as other movies, of all kinds–were viewed under the influence of hallucinogens.

How do you feel the more acid-centric, drop-out faction of the counterculture aligns with the politically engaged, anti-capitalist, “make love not war” wing? Wouldn’t these factions have been largely opposed, or is the acid Western perhaps emblematic of their common aims?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: You’re speaking in journalistic and/or academic categories — clichés, actually — that correspond to advertising pitches, not people. Some people I knew took acid and/or “dropped out” and/or were politically engaged and/or were anticapitalist and/or countercultural (to varying degrees) and/or wanted to fuck rather than fight. To some extent, I belonged to all of these categories, and so did some of my friends and acquaintances, but I’d hate to reduce any of us to these slogans or demographics. You might belong to any one or two of these labels and still not like any of the “acid westerns,” or you might like one or two or all of them. Fortunately, there were several possibilities, because, rightly or wrong, we all tended to think we were free and not simply suckers in an advertising campaign.

One of your postulations about the acid Western is that it uses the Western genre as a framework in which to advance a critique of conventional models of capitalism. Wouldn’t this make the acid Western adjacent to some of Sergio Leone’s Westerns, specifically Once Upon a Time in the West, which is in a general sense a critique of Hollywood imperialism?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Maybe it was that, but I didn’t take it as such at the time — I took it as a sadistic form of high opera that valorized macho violence as well as capitalism and was liked for pretentious and/or campy reasons. But my response probably wasn’t at all typical. I recall liking the Morricone theme song, but not much else.

Do you think that the acid Western has its most integral component in a 60s counterculture audience, and as such may no longer exist in its truest form? The poor commercial performance of Dead Man, for example, indicates that the film may have been orphaned from its proper context.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: It’s my own impression that Dead Man actually did quite well commercially, at least over time. (Somehow, I suspect that my Dead Man book wouldn’t have gone into a 2nd edition and been translated into French, Czech, and Persian if its subject had flopped commercially.) Don’t confuse the obtuseness of Harvey Weinstein at the time of the original release with the world market between then and now, or even necessarily with the American market. And what about the Native American market, which the film explicitly addresses? I think the film did and does address some countercultural currents in its audience, wherever and whenever these currents happen to be, which doesn’t make either it or any of its fans orphans. It never played for or to any 60s audiences, so it’s fruitless to speculate about that, but when it came out three decades later, it clearly wasn’t speaking to a void.

 

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19 films (1966 – 1976)

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Monte Hellman The Shooting (1966)
‘Hellman’s masterpiece asserts that individual choice is often subverted by the moral objectivity of others. The film’s ending is a favorite among cinephilles and serves as a paradigm of Camus’s thinking—both stoic and humane, it champions the power of nature over violence. Rather than exaggerate the likeability of his characters, Hellman is more concerned with their very human flaws. We mourn their deaths because of this realism. Hellman fabulously fools around with western archetypes—here we have a faithful sidekick with a penchant for comedy, a scruffy yet likeable hero, an obnoxious yet empowered female, and a mysterious man in black. Hellman’s spatial dynamics are disorienting and his compositions remarkably political. In one shot, Hellman uses a tree trunk to split his frame in two: on one side stands the character played by Perkins, on the other stands Oates and Hutchins. Most startling, though, is Hellman’s refusal to give evil a definitive face.’ — Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine


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Sergio Corbucci The Great Silence (1968)
The Great Silence (Il grande silenzio, 1968), or The Big Silence, is an Italian spaghetti western. It is widely considered by critics as the masterpiece of director Sergio Corbucci and is one of his better known movies, along with Django (1966). Unlike most conventional and spaghetti westerns, The Great Silence takes place in the snow-filled landscapes of Utah during the Great Blizzard of 1899. The movie features a score by Ennio Morricone and stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Silence, a mute gunfighter with a grudge against bounty hunters, assisting a group of outlawed Mormons and a woman trying to avenge her husband (one of the outlaws). They are set against a group of ruthless bounty hunters, led by Loco (Klaus Kinski).’ — thespinningimage.com


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Andy Warhol Lonesome Cowboys (1968)
Lonesome Cowboys was shot at the end of January 1968 in Tucson Arizona – on location in Old Tucson and at the Rancho Linda Vista Dude ranch 20 miles outside the city where some John Wayne movies had been filmed. It was edited by Andy while he was recuperating from the gunshot wounds inflicted by Valerie Solanas on June 3, 1968 and won Best Film at the San Francisco Film Festival in November. Unable to find a major commercial exhibitor, Warhol rented the Garrick Theatre where it opened on May 5, 1969. According to Morrissey, the film grossed $35,000-40,000 during its first week, with only $9,000 spent on advertising. It was also booked at the 55th Street Playhouse at the same time where it broke the “single-day housemark”, taking in $3,837 at $3.00 per ticket. In the same day it made $2,780 at the Garrick. It also ran for twenty weeks at various art houses in Los Angeles, and 2 1/2 months in San Francisco under distribution by Sherpix.’ — Gary Comenas, Warholstars


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Alan Rafkin The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)
‘This is a Don Knotts movie—and that says it all. It says, for one thing, that the plot deals with a weak little worm who turns and triumphs, after ten reels of old-style pratfalls. It also says that Universal City Studios will almost surely make $3,000,000 on an investment of $1,200,000. For Don Knotts comedies are what the trade calls “regionals”—movies turned out for rural audiences. In New York City, Chicago .and Los Angeles, the film Shakiest Gun was buried as a second feature after a Japanese-made disaster called King Kong Escapes. But it will pack them in as a feature in other areas, where Don Knotts is known and loved for his grape-eyed, slack-jawed frailty in the face of just about anything life sends his way.’ — Time Magazine


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Sam Peckinpah The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Wild Bunch (1969) is director/co-writer Sam Peckinpah’s provocative, brilliant yet controversial Western, shocking for its graphic and elevated portrayal of violence and savagely-explicit carnage, yet hailed for its truly realistic and reinterpreted vision of the dying West in the early 20th century. Peckinpah had earlier directed another classic western about the West’s passing, Ride the High Country (1962) and the epic western film Major Dundee (1965). Many of the film’s major stars, including William Holden, Edmond O’Brien, Robert Ryan and Ben Johnson, were veterans of westerns with a more romantic view of the West in the 40s and 50s. This hard-edged, landmark masterpiece of the Western film genre was beautifully shot in wide-screen by cinematographer Lucien Ballard. The film’s lasting influence has been seen in the imitative graphic violence of the films of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, John Woo, and others.’ — Tim Dirks, filmsite


Trailer


Excerpt: Final shootout

 

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Alejandro Jodorowsky El Topo (1970)
‘With its druggy wanderings and inscrutable reveries, El Topo would be part of the revolutionary, post-’60s movement if its private mythology didn’t belong so obviously to its maker’s acid subconscious. “I am God,” El Topo at one point intones, and Jodorowsky completely means it: Playing deity in front of and behind the camera, the director uses film as a direct pipe into his own mind, and the bursting valise of ideas, images, and sounds that results is a veritable blur of ridiculous and sublime (and ridiculous-sublime) moments that defy ordinary readings while inviting (demanding, really) audience involvement via active interpretation. Whether one takes it as a staggeringly visionary work or a sadistic circus procession making an opportunistic grab for every artistic base (Buñuel and Zen, Eisenstein and pantomime, Antonin Artaud and Russ Meyer), there is no denying the immersive being of the film.’ — Fernando F. Croce, Slant Magazine


Trailer


the entire film

 

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George Englund Zachariah (1971)
Zachariah (1971) is a film starring John Rubinstein as Zachariah and Don Johnson as his best friend Matthew. The film is loosely based on Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, surrealistically adapted as a musical Western by Joe Massot and two members of the Firesign Theatre comedy troupe. The band Country Joe and the Fish perform as an inept gang of robbers (more adept as musicians) called “the Crackers,” who are always “looking for people who like to draw.” In the same vein, Zachariah boasts: “I can think, I can wait, and I’m fast on the draw.” This is a parody of Siddhartha’s famous line: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.” This film is defined as being part of the Acid Western genre. More precisely, in its own publicity releases, it was called, “The first electric western.” This was, in no small part, because this film featured several appearances and music supplied by successful rock bands from the era, including the James Gang and Country Joe and the Fish. The movie also features former John Coltrane sideman Elvin Jones as a gunslinging drummer named “Job Cain.”‘ — jclarkmedia.com


Excerpt: Elvin Jones in Zachariah

 

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Robert Altman McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
‘If Robert Altman’s movies in the early Seventies –- M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye –- reveal the overall impact of dope on movie consciousness, representing a halfway house between the softer dope influence of the Sixties and the harder edge it would take on in the early Seventies –- this is because they reflect so many of the stylistic changes reflected above, at the same time that they frequently allude to drugs in their plots. The use of overlapping dialogue and offbeat musical accompaniments (such as the Leonard Cohen songs in McCabe, the bird lectures in McCloud, and the multiple versions of the title tune in The Long Goodbye) created a dense weave that made each spectator hear and understand a slightly different movie -– and, given that these were crowded, widescreen features, see a different movie as well.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum


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Excerpt: Ending

 

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Luc Moullet A Girl is a Gun (1971)
‘In 1971, Moullet made his first color film, Une aventure de Billy le Kid, also known by its English title, A Girl Is a Gun. A psychedelic Western starring French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud, the film was never released in France, but was instead shown abroad in an English-dubbed version. The dubbing, conceived by Moullet as a tribute to the “shabbiness” he always admired in American genre films, is intentionally bad, and the short, slight Leaud is given a mismatched deep voice. Despite most Cahiers du cinéma critics admired many western authors, when they themselves became filmmakers few dared to overtly revisit that genre. One year after Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El topo and as Sergio Leone premiered A Fistful of Dollars, Moullet charges full steam ahead with a wild western starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, taking this genre and one of its key characters to unexpected territory.’ — mubi


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Jim McBride Glen and Randa (1971)
‘Post-apocalyptic movies were, apparently, quite popular in the late 60s and early 70s. Glen and Randa (GaR) is very different from ’71’s big post-apocalyptic film: The Omega Man. Yet, the indie production of GaR is as obscure as the big studio film OM is famous. There are no hoards of zombies to battle. Instead, the story focuses on the two title characters (more clueless than heroic) and their quest for a mythical city. The film, which has been described as a psychedelic post-Western, got an X rating for its full frontal nudity. GaR shares with OM, the use of Biblical imagery woven into this view of post-apocalyptic earth.’ — collaged


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Peter Fonda The Hired Hand (1971)
‘The following is said of Peter Fonda’s character in Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 film The Limey: “You’re not specific enough to be a person. You’re more like a vibe.” That sentiment also applies to Fonda’s trippy 1971 Western, The Hired Hand, which is the closest anyone will come to getting inside of Fonda’s head without going blind on ’shrooms and pharmaceuticals. Having delivered a huge hit for Universal with Easy Rider, the studio did what studios in the ’70s did: It gave full artistic control to a hippie visionary with no commercial instincts whatsoever. Not surprisingly, Fonda’s phantasmagoric Western bombed at the time, but it’s since been revived as a fascinating curio, one that thoroughly upends a genre built on action and machismo. It’s the most gentle of the post-Wild Bunch anti-Westerns, and one of the more gorgeously abstract.’ — The AV Club


the entire film

 

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Robert Downey Sr. Greaser’s Palace (1972)
‘I am about to embark on the most pointless exercise known to man and I’m not talking about teaching a pig to fly. (Which actually works with a mildly sedated porker and a small trebuchet.) I’m going to try and explain Greaser’s Palace to a group of people who probably have not seen the movie. Heck, even if you have seen the movie it’s pointless. You are probably thinking to yourself, “It couldn’t be that outlandish. Could it?” The entire movie is an anecdotal allegory for religion, Christianity to be precise. If you want to start splitting hairs, I think Catholicism is the basis for everything that comes to pass. Greaser’s Palace is a huge saloon in some tumbleweed town out west; we can identify it as being “a church” since people come running to watch the show whenever bells begin ringing. Seaweedhead Greaser is the Catholic Church as represented by a gunslinger with itchy trigger fingers. Why in the world does he have a mariachi band and his mother locked in wooden cages?’ — Badmovies.org


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the entire film

 

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Stan Dragoti Dirty Little Billy (1972)
‘This is no typical, Tinseltown western. It’s more like The Making of a Sociopath, with Michael J. Pollard starring as displaced, 17-year-old Billy Bonney, in the days leading up to his evolution into the notorious Billy the Kid. Leaving New York City with his mom and (asshole) step-dad, the trio is first glimpsed arriving at a tiny Kansas cesspool named Coffyville; a DJANGO-like shanty town which keeps the entire cast continually ankle deep in dried mud, and with cinematographer Ralph Woolsey (THE MACK) bringing out the worst in the place. This is a true anti-western, without a character that you can totally warm up to, since they’re either inept, crazy, stupid or ruthless. Even the occasional moment of violence — like a barroom blowout — is quick, brutal and totally convincing. Unlike any western you’ve ever seen, this is McCABE AND MRS. MILLER’s evil brother.’ — Shock Cinema Magazine


Excerpt


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Michael Crichton Westworld (1973)
‘Welcome to Westworld, where nothing can go wrong…go wrong…go wrong….Writer/director Michael Crichton has concocted a futuristic “Disneyland for adults”, a remote resort island where, for a hefty fee, one can indulge in one’s wildest fantasies. Businessmen James Brolin and Richard Benjamin are just crazy about the old west, thus they head to the section of Westworld populated by robot desperadoes, robot lawmen, robot dance-hall gals, and the like. Benjamin’s first inkling that something is amiss occurs when, during a mock showdown with robot gunslinger Yul Brynner, Brolin is shot and killed for real. It seems that the “nerve center” of Westworld has developed several serious technical glitches: the human staff is dead, and the robots are running amok.’ — Hal Erickson, Rovi


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Clint Eastwood High Plains Drifter (1973)
‘Though occasionally amusing, in ways similar to A Fistful of Dollars and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, in which tough protagonists also manipulate weaker townspeople to humorous effect, High Plains Drifter is a brooding, surprisingly artistic Western, accented by a haunting score. Vigilante justice and broad depictions of good and evil tend not to work as well in stories set in the present day, because we’re all too aware of the damage Dirty Harry-style justice can do to the social fabric of the contemporary world. But it does work in Westerns, where the only law is the law of the gun. It’s a genre made for severe parables of justice and retribution like High Plains Drifter. At the end, Mordecai remarks that he still doesn’t know the stranger’s name. The stranger simply responds, “Yes, you do.” Mordecai understands, as do we. We understand that there are several ways to answer the question of the stranger’s identity, all equally valid.’ — AboutFilm.com


Excerpt

 

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Sam Peckinpah Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
‘A companion picture to The Wild Bunch, being set in a similar period, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid takes an entirely different approach. Here the focus is upon people rather than situations, with the title characters casting inky shadows over a memorable selection of ruffians. Completing Peckinpah’s complex and all-inclusive vision, John Coquillon’s photography remains striking. Filling the generous screen width with people and their trappings, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is beautiful in a downbeat way. The biggest weakness is the unstructured narrative, a major barrier to comprehending the story’s central third. Here the tale is difficult to follow, wandering aimlessly across the plain, intent on introducing a stream of bit parts. Interesting maybe, but also spotty and further clouded by the often-indistinct dialogue. In fact this last point is a real disappointment, given that the script is attractively dirty and direct — people say what they have too with little elaboration. So, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a terrific Western with rather too many studio battle scars. Oh for what might have been!’ — Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK


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Excerpt

 

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Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles (1974)
‘Vulgar, crude, and occasionally scandalous in its racial humor, this hilarious bad-taste spoof of Westerns, co-written by Richard Pryor, features Cleavon Little as the first black sheriff of a stunned town scheduled for demolition by an encroaching railroad. Little and co-star Gene Wilder have great chemistry, and the delightful supporting cast includes Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, and Madeline Kahn as a chanteuse modelled on Marlene Dietrich. As in Young Frankenstein (1974), Silent Movie (1976), and High Anxiety (1977), director/writer Mel Brooks gives a burlesque spin to a classic Hollywood movie genre; in his own manic, Borscht Belt way, Brooks was a central player in revising classic genres in light of Seventies values and attitudes, an effort most often associated with such directors as Robert Altman and Peter Bogdanovich.’ — Robert Firsching, Rovi


Trailer


Excerpt: ‘I’m Tired’

 

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Frank Perry Rancho Deluxe (1975)
Rancho Deluxe is a comedy western film that was directed by Frank Perry and released in 1975. Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston star as two cattle rustlers in modern-day Montana who plague a wealthy ranch owner, played by Clifton James. The film also stars Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright, Elizabeth Ashley and, as the aging detective Harry Beige hired to find the rustlers, Slim Pickens. The script was by novelist Thomas McGuane, who was married to Ashley. The film was described as a form of “parody Western” by critic Richard Eder in his Nov. 24, 1975 New York Times review. “It is so cool that it is barely alive,” he wrote of the film’s general tone. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Rancho Deluxe only one-and-a-half out of four possible stars. He wrote: “I don’t know how this movie went so disastrously wrong, but it did.”‘ — imdb.com


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Arthur Penn The Missouri Breaks (1976)
‘On first release, Arthur Penn’s 1976 western found itself derided as an addled, self-indulgent folly. Today, its quieter passages resonate more satisfyingly, while its lunatic take on a decadent, dying frontier seems oddly appropriate. Most significantly, the film provides a showcase for a mesmerising turn from Marlon Brando as the regulator hired to wage war on Jack Nicholson’s reformed horse rustler. At the time of shooting, Nicholson was fresh from an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his star in the ascendancy. And yet he appears happy to cede centre stage to his one-time acting idol. Not that Brando needs much invitation. Improvising his lines from beneath a series of comedy hats, he embarks on a merry dance from burlesque to menace and back again, while the picture frantically plays catch-up behind him.’ — The Guardian


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Excerpt
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*

p.s. Hey. ** Grace, Hi, Grace. Welcome, and thank you a lot for mustering the wherewithal to come in. Thank you too for the kind of offer to have a dialogue. The thing is I’m completely hopeless at correspondence, as even those people closest to me will attest. Emailing is not a good form for me. But if you want to talk about stuff here, we certainly can. Thank you again in any case. Take care. ** Cobaltfram, Hi there, John! What’s good with me? Most things, I think, luckily. My NYE was a total non-event. And yours? I don’t believe that the last time we conferred you had yet finished a draft of your book. Congratulations, man! It’s true: even though getting a ream of paper home from the closest Office Depot in Paris involves no less traveling and juggling than in NYC, it does seem easier. Strange. Maybe because the Paris metro is infinitely more enjoyable to ride and efficient to use than the NYC subway. Oh, gosh, on the Didion question. I guess I would say ‘Play it as it Lays’. Or else ‘A Book of Common Prayer’? My ‘new’ is mostly getting ready for Zac’s and my new film. And this and that. ‘ I see your money sweeping up plaudits’: I don’t know what that means, but I love the sentence. Thanks! Take care. ** Tosh Berman, Hi. If had the money, time, space, and insanity, I think I would collect fireworks. The combo of the bright, crazy, inventive within prescribed limits packaging designs and their self-destructive contents are very exciting. Okay, I guess I’m pretty sold now on ‘Silence’. I wonder when it opens here. I’m saving ‘Dr. Strange’ for my next flight as I do with virtually all blockbusters, but I am looking forward to it particularly. ** Steevee, It sure seems like it would easy and a no-brainer to resubmit the form. Any success or at least progress today? Based on our experiences, I don’t see how you could make a feature film without a producer, although I guess people do. There’s so much to organize in so many areas. You would need a ton of money and a ton of contacts and/or many generous, abled friends. It’s definitely hugely helpful to work on a film as a team. Zac and I see eye-to-eye about everything, and we also have Michael Salerno aka Kiddiepunk as the DP, and we work closely with him on most of the planning and execution too. ** Montse, Hi! I know, right? They’re so pretty. If I could, I would buy two of each, explode one and treat the other like a museum piece. I definitely want to come back to Barcelona for absolutely sure. Wow, Madeleine Mon Amour looks amazing. I’ve never seen madeleines like that in Paris ever. It’s weird: patisseries here seem very happy to dress-up and reinvent almost every pastry and cake-type, but madeleines are always left very simple looking and basic. But, okay, today I’m going to do a serious online search to see if I’ve just missed something. That’s wild and so yum! The meeting with the producer was good. We still don’t have a casting person, which we really, really need, but he promised to get us one right away, and for now we’re just going to set up some auditions with some possible performers that we’ve already found on our own. That’ll be a lot of work to do, but we have to get started. So, there’s progress, but not as much as we had hoped. I hope Barcelona treats you really well today? Did it? How so, if so, or even if not? Love, me. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Totally with you about scrapbooks. I used to make them all the time. I miss doing that. Yes, my old friend and I are going to Skype this evening. I’m excited and kind of nervous too. I told Montse just above you about the producer meeting. It was okay, but not a dream come true. There is progress with the boy, Milo. His mother is into him being in the film. Today our scout is going to talk to Milo personally to see what he thinks, and then hopefully we can travel out to Caen at some point soon to audition him. And this really interesting girl, also 15, named Rose, whom we’ve been thinking would be great for the other young teen main role is excited by the idea, so hopefully we can meet with her before too long. So, there was good news. Oh, Reinaldo Arenas. I read ‘Before the Night Falls’ a long time ago, but I remember liking it a lot. There was another novel of his that I remember liking a lot too. Shit, what was its title … I think ‘The Palace of the White Skunks’. Something like that. Did your Wednesday give you pleasure, and hopefully loads of it? ** Bill, Welcome home! I hope the jetlag is just a peep of a thing. I hadn’t known of ‘Astral Disaster’. I guess Ben/_B_A has it, as you probably saw. Enjoy or at least survive the fog! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben! I was just talking about you to Bill. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Oh, cool that the fellow Cheap Trick fans approved of my selection. Whew. No, I think ‘Tropisms’ was pretty much a singular thing at time of its birth. And very overlooked until the future Nouveau Roman writers discovered and championed it. Ooh, you’ve had that chicken/egg firework! Very lucky you. Great that you gave yourself that unbroken writing time, and that you finished the novella! Awesome! The opera project is resting right now because the composer/ musician is busy finishing another project, and we can’t really move forward until he weighs in. Although Gisele just told me yesterday that she and Dominique (Gonzalez-Foerster, who’s designing the set/visuals) are working on a ‘mood board’, so a little something’s going on. ** Kyler, Hi. Well, don’t explode or explode amazingly if you have to. Um, I do know of that problem that publishers (and agents) have with very short novels/ novellas. I’ve never had that problem with publishers myself, even though some of my novels — ‘Period’ for instance — are pretty short, but I think I’ve just been lucky. But, yes, it might be a real problem, at least if you’re going for a larger than small, adventurous indie publisher. I’m not sure what to do about it. Yeah, you could pad it with some short stories and have it be a book with a novella plus a few shorter fiction pieces, but is that more salable? I don’t know. Give the agent examples of very short books of recent times that have been successful? That’s the only thing I can think of. ** Derek McCormack, Derek! I know, I know! Wasn’t that a beautiful post overall? I really think so. I have this thing about the ‘airport’ one too. I have a stinking suspicion that you would be someone who knows exactly what I’m talking about. Love, Dennis. ** Bernard, B! Buddy-boy! Sweetness to see you, sire! I’m glad you’ve recovered. I’m glad you were lurking. I keep forgetting about ‘Every Wants Some’ and then remembering it and wanting to see it and then forgetting again. I’m not sure if it ever arrived here. It probably had a really, really different French name, if it did. I haven’t seen your LCTG review. I’m always scared to look at the pages for things I’ve or co-made on Amazon. I’ll go find it, and I will alert Zac. Thank you, pal! You in Paris this summer for a month gets a big ‘you betta!’ from me. I don’t know what’s going on in Paris this summer, but I can see what’s been announced. Yeah, the Avignon line-up isn’t revealed until fairly close to event time. I’ll check stuff. Lotsa love right back at you at twice the velocity. ** Misanthrope, Hey. Me too. Every single last one of them. Except I don’t want to light them until I have two of each of them, one to kill and one to worship. I did read/see about that fireworks market explosion. I’ve been in fireworks storage factories, and the fireworks are all neatly piled up and stacked close together. The factories look like Home Depots. I feel like in my Facebook feed, it’s more people hunting obsessively for people and things they don’t agree with and then trolling them nastily. I like talking objectively and unemotionally with people whom I disagree with who are into talking objectively and unemotionally with me. ** James Nulick, Hey. Wow, you really do have a bee in your bonnet about Mr. Cohen, ha ha. I constantly have songs stuck in my head for days at a time, yes. It almost seems like there is always one stuck there. They just crossfade from one to another like a permanent mixtape. When I made the Cheap Trick gig, I got their song ‘I Want You’ stuck in my head for a week. Then it crossfaded into their song ‘Cover Girl’ for five days. Then that was replaced yesterday by Guided by Voices’ song ‘Bad Love Is Easy to Do’, which is still playing in my right now. ** Right. Uh, … oh, the last time I was looking for posts from my murdered blog to reconstitute, I came across ‘Acid Western Day’, and I thought it could use a little updating, so I redid it to the point where it was neither a ‘back from the dead’ post nor a brand new one, so I chose the option of tagging it as ‘Restated’. See you tomorrow.

18 Comments

  1. Love “Zachariah” and of course “Lonesome Cowboys” (Both Joe and Viva are on Facebook and I cat with them nearly every day.

    A chapter of my book “Film: The Front Line — 1984” (Arden Press) is devoted to Luc Moulet.

    Never cared for “El Topo” though I understand its appeal.

  2. Reinaldo Areinas is remembered today for “Before Night Falls” but his novels like “Palace of the White Skunks” are exemplary. Now that Castro’s gone I imagine Cuba is quite different place for the LBGT than it was in Areinas’ time.

  3. Great post!
    El Topo is a total freak-out. It bothers me 🙂

  4. Hey, Dennis!

    I need to see El Topo! Yes, the fireworks packaging is great too. It makes me happy that you liked what you saw on Madeleine Mon Amour. It’s funny, I would have thought there would be plenty of patisseries with fancy madeleines in Paris. Let me know if your search on the subject is fruitful. Now I feel like eating madeleines!
    I’m glad the meeting went well, although there are still things to figure out. I can imagine you must have tons of stuff to think about and coordinate. I hope you find someone for the casting job very soon.
    As for me, I’ve been working all day and now I’m off to meet up an old friend who now lives in India. So yes, I can say Barcelona has treated me well today :-). Hope you have a fantastic Wednesday! Love.

  5. I’ve never seen EL TOPO, but I like the 2 other Jodorowsky films I’ve seen – in fact, I used to recommend THE HOLY MOUNTAIN to people who requested “something weird” when I worked at a video store. I pissed off many of them. I agree with Rosenbaum’s enthusiasm for DEAD MAN – I think it’s high praise that it was one of only two films made by white people shown at a series of films about Indians programmed by Native American writer Sherman Alexeie last year at the Metrograph – but I’ve seen shamefully few of this “canon.”

  6. Hi!

    That’s so great! How was the first Skype chat with your friend?
    Hm. I’m sorry you still don’t have a casting person! But it’s good news about Milo and Rose! I really hope they’ll both be available and right for the roles!
    I’ll look into that Reinaldo Arenas novel! Before the Night Falls was the first book I read from him but it made me interested in his other works!
    Well today I had quite an extreme day. Or at least packed with highly unexpected events. I got a phone call from a girl I hardly know: she told me in a hurry that there’s this little dog who lives in a family where the kid regularly abuses her and now they’re looking for a new owner – I guess the mother basically realized that her kid will kill the dog in the end. I lost my beloved dog 7 months ago and nowadays I started to vaguely think about adopting a puppy. So I made a rapid decision and now I’m home with this new little family member. She’s not a puppy, she’s 2 years old but she’s a little angel. It’s very difficult right now, emotionally, but it’s also so great to have a dog around. So… that was my day today.
    How was yours? I hope it was all kinds of lovely!

  7. Happy (belated) new year dennis!

    There’s so much good homework in this post. I encountered Jodorowsky for the first time through the documentary that came out about him in 2013 about his attempt to make a 12 hour version of Dune. Have you seen it yet? Lots of interesting sci-fi film history contained in that little documentary.

    Have you/do you have any interest in seeing the new Star Wars film? I went two nights ago and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It very much felt like they managed to hit on some of the magic of that original film without pumping it full of disney product placement.

    What’s on your plate for the rest of the week? Glad to see that your poor “murdered” blog is finding itself resurrected in piecemeal fashion. I might not have gotten to see this post otherwise! Thinking of you, hope you’re well!

    Bear

  8. The Metaphysician

    January 4, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    DEAD MAN and EL TOPO (as well as THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) are on my to-watch list.

  9. Hi Dennis—you’ve appropriated my introduction to Acid Westerns almost in its entirety. Would you mind crediting me add a link back to my site?

  10. To get to something Misa said last night, I’ve always found it a bit hypocritical when LGBT progressives say “we value acceptance, diversity and difference” and then freak out at the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans or Caitlyn Jenner declaring she’s a Republican. There are certain types of difference that are OK – a white man talking with an African-American feminist, or a Jewish person talking with a Palestinian activist – but from what I’ve read on FB, talking with a Trump supporter is pretty much treason. The problem is that I’m not sure where you draw the line and decide what forms of difference offer learning experience and where you’re going to get into pointless arguments or become a homophobe’s token gay friend. I’m OK with Jenner declaring she’s a conservative or even a Republican in the abstract, but not with her publicly supporting certain politicians whose policies damage the trans community.

    • I disagree. Republicans are not about diversity. They’re about hatred, greed and the denial of pleasure. That Milo creep everybody’s been screaming about because Simon and Shuster gave him an ungodly large advance for his book (which will attack women, transexuals, blacks and Jews) is scarcely an example of diversity.

      Here’s a song adore “There’s a line between love and fascination / Hard to see on an evening such as this” defines my romantic life.

      As y’all know I’ve been working on my memoir “Raised By Hand Puppets” for a good many years now. I’d love to have it published but I doubt anyone would put up half of Milo’s advance for it.

      Anyhoo a new chapter idea just came to me about The Great Silence of the “Before Time” when Teh Ghey was never brought up in “polite conversation. In many ways it made it possible for Andy to be Out As All Hell cause no one would dare to ask the obvious question. But sometimes push comes to shove — and it nearly did at The Army/McCarthy Hearings If you remember them you’re nearly as old as me. I’ll be 70 next month.

  11. Re the chat with James about having songs stuck in your head, for days now I’ve had Oasis – D’You Know What I Mean? and it’s must be the dullest, most mediocre earworm ever.

  12. Oh boy. I wanna go to France. I have kind of zero money, but I’ve already learned I can get by ok on not too much there. So I hope the Récollets will smile on me again. I have in mind scoping out French artists, or artists showing in France, cause I might go a bit in the direction of writing some articles in art, or even curating. Meanwhile, I’m focusing on my poems and fiction and getting ready to arrange maybe some essays on dreaming and film.
    Reinaldo Arenas wrote some terrific poetry. I remember Tim was a big fan; he wrote about him for Christopher Street, I think it was. I think he wanted to introduce him to the English-speaking world, or the gay part of it.
    I once spent an evening with Julian Schnabel not so long after his film of Before Night Falls came out–which I admired and was moved by. People have their justified feelings about Schnabel, but he sure told some great stories about shooting clandestinely in Havana. And he teared up when he talked about why he wanted to make that film.
    I’ve studied “Lonesome Cowboys” pretty closely, having taught it three or four times. It’s incredibly innovative; or at least it draws the threads of quite a bit of film innovation together. I think its cultural reach is really unacknowledged.
    BTW I just saw that “Everybody Wants Some” was released in France under its American title, as “Boyhood” was.

  13. Good to see this old favorite again, Dennis. It was in a happier time when I actually tracked down copies of McCabe/Mrs Miller, Pat Garrett/BtK etc at the video rental store. Sigh.

    Ben/Black Acrylic, if you get a chance to revisit the purple splattered vinyl, I’d love more comments, thanks!

    Guys, El Topo is essential stuff. In my book, anyway.

    Not doing too badly with the jet lag; we’ll see how things go tonight.
    Bill

  14. DavidE, Do like Milo and market the living shit out of yourself, for better or worse. It doesn’t matter how you get in the news….just make sure you’re in the news everyfuckingday. You must wake up every morning thinking, “I need to sell the hell out of myself, whether by hook or by crook!” The money’ll come rolling in.

    Dennis, Oh, yeah, I see that shit on my Newsfeed too. And it’s from every point of view. I usually just scroll on by. If i get too into it or dwell on it too long, I just get depressed. The worst is when I see friends ripping into each other online.

    Trolling and trolls have been around since the dawn of the interwebs. Best just to identify them and ignore them. Or at least for me, that’s best. Though I’d contend that those with extremist views who post in, say, the comments section of news article aren’t actually trolls but just very nasty people. I’ve always thought trolling was supposed to be funny and outrageous with a wink. Not these people, they’re very serious and mean everyfuckingthing they say. I avoid them, just like I would in real life. As the great Sweet Brown said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

    One of these days, I’ll have to have a Wines family Acid Western weekend. That’d be fun. They’d probably hate me, but it’d be fun for me. 😀

  15. El Topo may be one of those movies that is a perfect movie.

    I remember watching it for the first time thinking: “I think this is a cowboy film.”

    It’s a Spaghetti Western and one of the early Django movies, but have you seen Django Kill, if You Live, Shoot ?

    It stars Tomas MIlian.

    Here’s the German trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCK33WqHQ3s

    This looks like the full movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfn5OyMnC1Q

    Also one last one – Companeros – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS3xHRUuoKI

    Jack Palance’s character (The Penguin) smokes weed all the way through it. It’s pretty cool.

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