Saturday, April 12, 2008

Movies that read like photos: eh-hem, thoughts on Jesse James, the assasination of...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford exposes my weakness for movies that reach beyond the actors, the action, and the actuality. It reels together 10,000 images worthy of each and every still moment. I went into the movie skeptical of the joyride, the big-screen-cinestravaganza that the actors might offer; I grew tired, I rallied, I hit pause and walked away...and returning I saw an image stilled and choreographed. Stunning.

It redeemed. I watched it again, stopping the frames again and again in my head, all the while being taken away to a land I grew up near and only flirted with in my few trips outside Kansas City, sometimes perched up on the front-seat armrest of my family's station wagon. (Yes, it was the eighties, the wagon was big, very big, and I think it was a Buick; and while I am thankful to have never experienced the tragedy of hurling headlong into the windshield, I can't imagine a childhood car-trip memory without that front seat view.) In my nostalgic, wink-eyed memory I didn't have cowboy boots with spurs, or even a cowboy hat, but I did have a BB gun in the car, and I did make my dad pull over next to that pond alongside Highway 169, I think it was, to hunt bull frogs. It's one of many childhood memories on the way to St. Paul, Kansas, where my grandfather ran the area's general store, or was it a hardware store?

There is a LOT of this land in The Assassination of Jesse James; it's an experience that is skillfully wrought into every visual moment of the film, and every stream of this consciousness made the movie, the narrative, (the trance), and abandoned me to my senses and my memories.

Having shot road trip stories in rural Kansas and Oklahoma--our most recent of the two traces parts of Route 66 that my dad traveled while courting my mother in the late 50's and early 60's--I have to admit, not all nostalgia must be avoided.

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