Tuesday, August 7, 2012

7 Men From Now

The Jersey City Film Forum, last blogged about here, has started up again. For various reasons, this local film appreciation society went on hiatus, but it has been reborn and there are some exiting plans and possibilities in the near future for the organization, an outgrowth of the Jersey City Art School.
My involvement has increased. I had a lot of enthusiasm and attended all the screenings, so the kids are letting me help out.  I’m handling publicity for the Jersey City Film Forum, and am one of the moderators, which means I get to pick some of the films.  As usual, the mix of films will be eclectic, old and new.  As might be expected, my first choice was old.
On August 5th the Jersey City Film Forum screened 7 Men From Now, by the great director, Budd Boetticher.  I consider this film a masterpiece.
Okay, so attendance wasn’t what I might have hoped for but a good time was had by all. I became a tad obsessive writing my introduction because I had a lot of thoughts about this film. I’ve seen it scores of times and know way too much about it. Part of the programing  at the Jersey City Film Forum is that short introductions to the films are given before they are screened. This was also my first film introduction, ever.
I came up with an introduction, which I revised a few times so it could be spoken in less than five minutes. I actually thought it would be just notes but it became more of a recitation, probably cause of my poetry reading background.
Anyway, I thought it was pretty good and since I bloggedabout Budd Boetticher before (at the NYC Film Forum), I figured why not just publish the 7 Men From Now intro here instead of letting it wallow on my hard drive.  The reason the paragraphs  are numbered is because a numerical sequence was easier to do for notes. I did not recite each number.
7 Men From Now is  a great film and watching it at the Jersey City Film Forum was an enriching experience. The MacGuffin – basically the false plot device that drives action – are the seven men responsible for the death of the Ex-Sherriff’s wife. Stride's (Randolph Scott) real purpose is to confront Lee Marvin.
If you go to Facebook and search Jersey City Film Forum you can find out what films are scheduled. The screenings are Sundays, 7-10 pm @ 326 Fifth Street.

1)       Intro –  Howdy. I reckon nobody here has seen 7 Men From Now. I envy you all because I wish could watch it again for the first time. I love this film and believe it is a masterpiece.
2)      When 7-Men From Now was released in 1956, it was considered a B-western and the only people who recognized its originality and sophistication were other filmmakers, film scholars and the French. I’ve been a movie buff since I was a kid, but westerns were not really a taste I acquired until about ten years ago, when I decided to study the western and began to rent, buy and watch as many westerns as I could fit into the schedule.  I picked up the 7 Men From Now DVD knowing nothing about the director, Budd Boetticher or the importance of the film or the many accolades from the array of filmmakers throughout the last half century who claim it as a major influence. I was blown away. When the film ended I had to re-watch it immediately. I’ve been in love with it ever since, seen it dozens of times. Instead of going into its place within the history of the western, or the circumstances that led to its making – it was the first film where Boetticher had creative control –  I’ll just briefly highlight a few points  that explain why 7 Men From Now is considered great filmmaking and that hopefully will enhance your viewing experience.
3)      The title – and movie –  is one big MacGuffin  (I’ll explain that after the film).
4)      The story seems simple – a man is on a quest for vengeance – but it is really a complex and ambiguous parable:  an existential allegory about honor, masculinity, and the need to give our lives meaning in an indifferent  universe.  
5)      Themes are more important than plot in film, but you need story telling to explore those themes. How does Boetticher tell his story so the viewer can think about its themes? He uses the minimum to exert the maximum. Think of Reservoir Dogs or Clerks. With the right script, the right actors and a director with a distinct vision and style, you are not distracted by a lack of budget or by the modesty of scope.
6)      The scenery is as important a story telling device for Boetticher as dialog. He uses scenery – the landscape and the lighting – to invoke the theme and suggest emotions.  For example:  notice how the rain is used in the opening scene and in the rain scenes later on. Notice the green woodlands when Stride meets the Greers,  and how it contrasts with the rocky desert when the villains are introduced and where the final showdown takes place.
7)      The dialog is terse. Expositional information is rationed out.  We never know the complete story until just before the final shoot out. Themes are sub-textual, but by the terse – almost Beckett like – dialog, the simple but decisive action, and the use of scenery, we are drawn deeper into the subtext of this film. We become as interested in the themes as we are in the story.  
8)      Notice the coffee cups, the rifles, the horses, the bridles on the horses, notice the two different shirts Randolph Scott wears. When he wears each one explains why – in terms of theme – he wears each one. Everything in this film is deliberate. The director makes the most out of very little. These details are not important in of themselves, but they show that everything in the film is essential.
9)      The realism is subtle but always apparent. There is not a pretentious moment in this movie. The movie is very true to life.  For example, Boetticher shows people taking care of the horses.  You never doubt these are real people in the 19th century in the Southwestern region of America.
10)   The characters are believable. Masters (Lee Marvin), the main villain is complex and sympathetic. Annie Greer is strong, compassionate and emotionally conflicted. Randolph Scott, the star and protagonist is weirdly inexpressive throughout the movie. He always says less than he means and never more than he intends. His reticent behavior unnerves everybody he encounters – they can’t seem to shut up when they are near him. We gradually realize why he is so quiet – he is obsessed with his need for vengeance.
11)   There are no fancy camera movements, yet this is a very visually stylized film. Scorsese says in Boetticher’s work there is a tension in every frame, which attracts and sustains our attention. The movements  of the characters within each frame are synchronized, almost ritualistic. It is a very subtle technique and creates the pacing, which is consistent, not rushed but certainly not slow either. 7 Men From Now is  also beautifully filmed, especially the landscapes. William Clothier was the  cinematographer, he shot a lot of Westerns, but was also DP on King Kong. The photography, the staging, the choreography of both minor and major action – just like the terse dialog, stark landscapes and the editing choices (when he cuts away, when he features a close up) – all bring you deeper into the film, and closer to its themes.
12)   Calling 7 Men From Now a great western is too limiting. It is like calling the Godfather a great gangster movie or The Big Lebowski a great stoner comedy. Thinking solely in terms of genre can undermine great films. Like Shane, The Searchers – and arguably, One Upon A Time in America – 7 Men From Now is a masterpiece beyond genre.
13)   And now , the Jersey City Film Forum presents 7 Men From Now.  

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