Meek's Cutoff (USA, 2010, Kelly Reichart)
And So It Goes, with Ben Livant:
And So It Goes, with Ben Livant:
You know that Depression-era cowboy tune about a guy talking to his horse - "Dan" happens to be the critter's name - while the two of them stagger on in the desert, dying of thirst? No, no, not the hit from the early 70s by the band, America; although that song too and the band name as well are certainly suitable enough for the subject matter of Meek's Cutoff. But no. THAT horse had no name, Dan. This one's called "Dan." Like I already tol' ya, Dan. This song - "Cool Water" it's called - was made popular in the 40s, by a group named, The Sons of the Pioneers; more than suitable enough for the subject matter of Meek's Cutoff. Well, anyway here's my tagline:
"Cool Water" as scored by Philp Glass and performed by Ani DiFranco unplugged.
We are deep in Less-is-More Country according to feminist historiography. Whether you find Meek's Cutoff boring and dubious or artful and compelling, I defy anyone to watch this movie and not press the pause button so as to hit the sink and drink. I had to pour quite a few ladles down my throught to beat the drought so I could carry on.
As to where I fall in the dust of this minimalist and revisionist reworking of John Ford's mud, I'm basically for it. However, I do have to point out that the aesthetic minimalism renders the revisonist ideological reworking anything but subtle. It is because everything is stripped down to the bare bone essentials of story-telling, in an environment that is little more than an empty expanse, in a plot predicament that is literally life-and-death dehydration physics - well, a hiccup sounds like a cannon being fired.
The film is impressively a hard and pointy tack when it comes to the circumstances of all involved, but the characters are so thinly fleshed out (food is almost as scarce as water, heh heh), they take on a two-dimensional, blunt functionality for the Woman's Deconstruction of The Western. As credible as it is that these people would have been on the taciturn side, Meek's Cutoff is Less-is-Less in the screenplay. More and richer dialogue to create more complex and engaging characters is what's at stake, I reckon. And speaking of speaking correctly, on the politically correct front, the film undermines the realistic respect it shows the native character by not providing sub-title translations of what he says.
I also have to wonder about the facts of the 1845 expedition. A few years ago I saw a PBS documentary about it, or at least I think I did. In that program, the expedition pursuing a short-cut for the Oregon Trail consisted of a couple hundred people, if I recall correctly, and there were many lives lost, 50 folks or thereabouts. In Meek's Cutoff, it's a mere three-wagon company. Maybe I've got historic incidents confused. But if I don't, again we are confronted by a minimalist story-telling aesthetic imposing itself in a questionable stylised and symbolic manner.
But that should not be my last word on this film. Like I said before, I'm basically for it. I suppose it believes itself to be a tad more profound than it actually is, but even so, it is does have significant depth. It is both evocative and provocative; atmospherically and conceptually, respectively. Hey, it made me drink, and think.