Music is older than you.
The redwoods will outlast you.
The ocean and space and all of the air you breathe is bigger than you.
(Take a cue from The Mandalorian. This is the way.)
On a shelf in my office sits a repurposed pickle jar full of rusty nails, burnt wood and rounded bits of broken glass I’ve collected from the shores of Mono Lake over the years. These pieces of detritus are what’s left from the Lago/Hell set showcased in the mighty High Plains Drifter. The filmmakers burned the set down after filming and its remnants are still rather easy to find to this day.
Mono Lake is about a three-hour drive from where I hang my hat. It’s a fly-infested, salty quagmire and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. Mono Lake is known for many things, but birds, bugs and tufa formations top the list. It’s the last attraction before Yosemite if you’re approaching from Nevada. There’s even a pretty cool bigfoot sighting that was shot on the shoreline floating around out there on the internets. That one of my favorite westerns was filmed on location is just icing on the cake.
Legend has it that John Wayne hated this movie with such a vigor, he wrote Clint Eastwood a letter detailing his grievances. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
High Plains Drifter is very nearly a perfect film. Dark, supernatural, gritty and violent, it’s everything you want in a western.
With one rather glaring exception. More on that later.
High Plains Drifter rotates its way through the streamers with enough regularity that I’ve never felt the need to pick up a physical copy. There was no sense of urgency. It was something I planned to do eventually, but like growing up, there was no real rush.
Then I came across a Blu-ray release that featured Alex Cox of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy fame on commentary. This, I had to have. Alex Cox had a hand in shaping my views of both cinema and life as we know it as a teenager. (See also: Pretty In Pink, Blue Velvet, Koyaanisqatsi, et al.)
Mr. Cox is also responsible for one of my all-time favorite movie lines. Via Repo Man:
Leila: Charming friends you got there Otto.
Otto: Thanks, I made them myself.
It still makes me laugh.
So I watched High Plains Drifter with the commentary on, and I learned a thing or two. For starters, I had no idea Cox had written a book on Italian westerns, of which Eastwood is so strongly associated. He turned me on to Django the Bastard, one of a seemingly endless supply of Django films. Django the Bastard – aside from having the best western film title this side of Duck, You Sucker! – also features a mysterious stranger coming to town and exacting revenge on the townsfolk for crimes of the past. It’s interesting to note that Django the Bastard came out four years before High Plains Drifter, and was itself a riff on Eastwood’s earlier work with Sergio Leone. It’s on YouTube if you want to give it a whirl.
High Plains Drifter has so much going for it. The opening sequence: a hazy mirage slowly focusing onto a lone rider. The beauty of the Sierra Nevadas. The first shot of the town of Lago built upon the shores of Mono Lake. I could ramble on.
I won’t. But I could.
And the cast is great too. Geoffrey Lewis is in the film. No surprise there, it is an Eastwood flick after all. Lewis just makes everything better. (See also: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) Anthony James is in the mix as well. If there ever is a character actor hall of fame, James belongs in it. The movie also features Billy Curtis as Mordecai. The man was in The Wizard of Oz for crying out loud. Mordecai is a badass.
The only place where the film and I part ways is the rape scene. There is no such thing as a good rape scene. Rape in and of itself is a horrifying and despicable act. It has been used with profound effect in films like The Accused, The Shawshank Redemption, American History X and Boys Don’t Cry. On the flip-side, it’s also been used hideously in movies like Death Wish and, sadly, High Plains Drifter. The scene comes out of nowhere, with seemingly no real connection to the plot. There is an attempt to explain it later in the film, but it’s too little too late. It comes off as chauvinistic and gratuitous and mars an otherwise perfect western.
If you ask me, supernatural westerns are sorely lacking from today’s society. If you haven’t watched High Plains Drifter in the past, please do so at your earliest convenience. And get the copy that features Alex Cox on commentary, you’ll be glad you did.
Read an article today on the latest rounds of Oscar snubs. The article snubbed the most heinous snub of the year.
Viva la Pig!
I started the year off right with a punk rock binge with a little Hollywood thrown in for good measure.
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne – I had actually bought this book for my youngest daughter after we both got conned by a fake Harry Potter trailer on YouTube. The script format threw her off too much – it is an acquired taste – so I inherited it. Honestly, it was much better than I was expecting. The folks responsible for the Star Wars sequels should have given it a thumb-through to learn how to reference original source material without being derivative or pandering. I will say this story would have been so much lusher as a novel. Maybe someday.
Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb – I scream. You scream. We all scream for oral histories. As evidenced by the sublime Please Kill Me, punk rock especially lends itself to the oral history format. Punk Rock: An Oral History is about two hundred pages too long, but it is thorough. Maude Lebowski would be proud.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (Audiobook) – My mother bought this book for me when I was a child. It was an overt attempt on her part to bring me into the Christianity fold. It’s a little too religious for my tastes, still, I maintain a certain amount of nostalgia for it to this day. Hey! Unto you a child is born!
The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus (Audiobook) – I was just curious to see how The Shape of Water would translate to a novel written after the fact. It didn’t suck.
Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone by Johnny Ramone – Short, sweet and to the point. A Ramones song with pictures.
Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone by Marky Ramone – Back to back Ramones biographies! Dig it. Marky’s book makes Johnny’s seem like Cliff Notes. Good stuff.
The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard & Clint Howard (Audiobook) – I was planning on going analog with this one. That is, until I learned that Ron and Clint Howard were narrating the audiobook themselves. That sealed the deal. I could listen to Ron Howard talk the day long. As usual though, it was Clint Howard who got the best line, “I was already worked up about the emotional aspect of the scene as it was a climatic moment for my character. Now I also had to execute a bird. And in a single take so I didn’t have to murder more than one.” There may be a bit of paraphrasing at play here as audio transcription isn’t my forte, but I can assure you the passage is meant to be taken literally. Viva la Hollywood.
Christmas, Christmas time is near, time for toys and time for cheer. We’ve been good, but we can’t last. Hurry Christmas, hurry fast. Want a plane that loops the loop. Me, I want a hula hoop. We can hardly stand the wait. Please Christmas, don’t be late.
Sleigh bells, reindeer and snow. Let the binging begin!
By the Numbers: 43 Films/Specials. 11 Instances of A Christmas Carol. 4 instances of The Muppets. 4 instances of Rankin/Bass. 1 holiday spirit satiated…for now.
Every Thanksgiving morning. Every year. We’ll save Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the afternoon.
Happy turkey day, ya’ll.