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Author Topic: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)  (Read 35266 times)
cigar joe
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« on: December 29, 2004, 04:32:24 AM »

Picked this DVD up over the holiday and just watched it last night. A nice transfer and a great western.

This western is part of a triptic its  borrows from The Great Silence and in return Keoma borrows from this film.

This film is a good example of where the western genre could go exploring and be a fresh take.

Basically a stranger McCabe arrives at a new minning camp in the Pacific Northwest. He wears a S&W breaktop revolver and a huge fur coat with a hood, the hood he removes and replaces with a bowler hat out of a hat box when he reaches the town, (this look is straight out of TGS). He is a gambler and rumored to be a gunfighter. McCabe is a buisness man an opportunist. He''s smarter than Sweeney ( the saloon keeper) but not by much. He starts out running games at Sweeney''s but has bigger ideas. He sees that there''s money to be made in a place like this so he imports a few hookers and builds a saloon. His posperity attracts Mrs. Miller (Julie Christy) a very strong female lead a Madam who is a much better buisness man than McCabe. Mrs. Miller is a far stronger female lead than Mrs. McBain (Claudia). Mrs Miller and McCabe go into buisness together he supplies her with half the money for a bath house and high class whorehouse. They are raking it in which attracts outside competition. Its not a big gunfight film. Its in typical Altman style where its almost improve with the minor actors going through side conversations that you hear snatches of as if you are eaves dropping.

So its a whole different angle on the western better than any town themed based western I''ve seen.

This film was shot in British Columbia, and a whole town of actual buildings (that the crew lived in) was carved out of the wilderness to represent Presbyterian Church the name of the minning camp. Its very realistic and this is particularly a Leonesque touch. Looks like a lot of the film was shot in natural light.

I lived for 24 years in this same area about 70 miles south of the border and I know it well.  Grin

I picked it up a a Borders book store $14.99

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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2004, 09:40:48 PM »

To me anyway the DVD looks pretty much the waythe film always looked.  And, for those of you not familiar with the Pacific Northwest that''s the way the light is there a good deal of the time, wet, overcast, foggy, almost a greenish tinge to everthing. Think of Lynch''s Twin Peaks for a similar comparison.

« Last Edit: December 29, 2004, 09:41:48 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2004, 03:54:15 AM »

I''ve seen this before, and liked it but was never a big favorite of mine.  I just rented it a few weeks ago and couldn''t get into it - started it from the beginning twice and could only get 20 minutes through.

What completely annoyed me was the goddamn whiny Leonard Cohen theme song.  It''s basically a Cliffs Notes version of the movie.  If you listen to that insipid little ditty there''s no reason to watch the rest of the film - the song gives away the entire plot including any nuance and subsequent character development.  I''m sure they gave him the script and asked him to compose a song for the film, and he was probably lazy and stoned to the gills from that BC ganja and just cranked it out in half an hour. 

Not a big fan of movie soundtracks with lyrics obviously.  Give me WAH-A-WAH-A-WAAAAAAAAAAAA anytime.

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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2004, 06:30:34 AM »

I forgot, you are not a big fan of Keoma then  Grin

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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2004, 01:00:57 PM »

I just rewatched the film with the commentary on I guess Altman wanted every frame to resemble a painting in natural light, the film looks the particular way it does because they used a technique called "flashing" where they expose the negative to light before they develope it. Supposed to give it a sepia toned aged look.

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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2005, 11:19:49 PM »

The reason they did the flashing was since it was done to the negative the studio couldn''t jerk them around there would be no way to change it.

One more thing the very end is a sort of homage to Leone, it has a very close up zoom shot of Julie Christie''s single eye, so close infact that it goes out of focus. This is while she''s zoneing out in an opium den, the out of focus eye refocuses on what looks like a porcelain opium poppy bud that Julie is slowly rotating and it resembles a shot of the earth from space, pretty cool little sequence that Leone fans will appreciate.

Check it out!

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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2005, 09:38:44 AM »

OK so from what you have all written i can''t really tell if you liked it or not. Should i buy it or not? thumbs up or down!

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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2005, 04:12:53 PM »

I like it because its as different from what came before as Leone was to the old American Westerns. Its just a different direction and yet has very Spaghetti Like elements.  Just don''t be expecting a shootout every 10 minutes, its a whole different ball of wax but good in its own way.

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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2005, 05:08:11 PM »

I really like this film, but haven''t seen it in a while. I recently "discovered" how great Altman acually is, so it''s about time I give this another look. Definately recommended. Just don''t go in expecting a lot action.

Also, the Leonard Cohen songs were not written for the film, Altman picked them from Cohen''s earlier albums.

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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2005, 11:35:16 PM »

The reason they did the flashing was since it was done to the negative the studio couldn''t jerk them around there would be no way to change it.

One more thing the very end is a sort of homage to Leone, it has a very close up zoom shot of Julie Christie''s single eye, so close infact that it goes out of focus. This is while she''s zoneing out in an opium den, the out of focus eye refocuses on what looks like a porcelain opium poppy bud that Julie is slowly rotating and it resembles a shot of the earth from space, pretty cool little sequence that Leone fans will appreciate.

Check it out!
Not sure why we Leone fans should note this. How is this an hommage to the master?

Also, I've heard Altman mention that flashing technique before, and I don't think it fully accounts for the look of the film. He also used flashing on _The Long Goodbye_ a film that has a very different (and Southern Californian) look. Maybe the differences in local had something to do with it, or maybe Altman and his cinematographer improved their technique, but I think M&MM looks terrible and TLG looks great.

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« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2005, 04:56:01 AM »

The extreme close up on Julie Christies eye reminds me of the close up on Bronson at the shoot out with Fonda. Its more than just a closeup of Bronson its a close up of man, all of us in a way, our past, our ancestors, our ancient race

In M&MM it starts with a head shot of Christie, she's laying down so its sideways it slowly zooms in on one single eye that eventually turns into the earth. So I look at this one as, so to speak, ancient race woman, turning into Earth Mother, cool stuff, the new widescreen DVD is worth it.

Also Altman in the commentary notes that the music was not written for the film, but he does mention going to a party or something where Cohen was playing and claims that the tunes stuck in his mind and influenced the film. Also he noted that Cohen didn't at first like the film. Interesting stuff.

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« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2005, 04:59:21 PM »

they used a technique called "flashing" where they expose the negative to light before they develope it. Supposed to give it a sepia toned aged look.

I've worked a bit as a cinematographer in the past (not on a feature film though, unfortunately). Flashing film stock was a technique a number of cinematographers used in the 1970 with colour stock.

Back then the stuff labs churned out had notoriously poor contrast. If you were shooting in the kind of "naturalistic", low light looks which Coppola, Scorsese and Altman (f'r instance) were after, you ended up with huge slabs of black shadows with a few highlights.

Flashing the stock before shooting meant that you could kick loads more detail and contrast in those shadow areas, improving eye lights etc.

Any sepia look would have been produced during the printing stage, and not in pre production or in shooting, (though filters can be used to enhance this).

Of course Leone shooting in brilliant sunlight in Almeria didn't have any of these worries. By the time he shot ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, film stock latitudes had improved immensely, so there was no need for it.

Going back to MRS MILLER, it seems to me that this film was an enormous influence on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Both films have very similar plots, similar sexual dynamics, similar material motivations for the characters, both feature opium dens, etc. Unfortunately, I've only seen MRS MILLER once, many years ago, but I was greatly struck by how much these two films chimed together. I may be wrong, but don't they even end with identical shots?

Leone does use this same shot in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, so this may be Leone quoting Altman quoting Leone. Huh

Certainly Leone was an admirer of Altman. What is the name of the store over the road from Fat Mo's? ALTMAN'S.

« Last Edit: July 08, 2005, 05:53:14 PM by Juan Miranda » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2005, 08:23:01 PM »

Juan, thanks for the info on flashing, and welcome to the board.

OUTIA ends with a shot through lace or some kind of netting of Noodles (De Niro) smiling. OUATITW had the same shot of Jill through the lace of a bed canopy but it was during the course of the film not at the end.  Not quite the same as Mrs. Miller.

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« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2006, 12:59:26 PM »

Its been a miserable cold & rainny weekend here perfect weather to watch this film again, set in a cold rainy Pacific Northwest, you hear the blowing wind even before the credits start. So I'm putting this poll up to gauge the boards familiarity with this Altman film.

I think it deserves to be considered up there with some of the classics. While Leone made a mythic film about the gunfighting gods Altman made this one about us mortals, you can see quotes in it from SW's and its influences, particularly in HBO's Deadwood.

Its another style that really worked well and has a "Great Silence" downer ending, so let us know.

« Last Edit: April 25, 2006, 10:54:03 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2006, 01:26:07 PM »



Its another style that really worked well and has a "Great Silence" downer ending, so let us know.

well thanks for giving away the ending Joe. Angry


I havent seen it. I hear it is excellent. I have tried looking for dvds of this and have not found any as of yet.

« Last Edit: April 23, 2006, 01:45:01 PM by The Firecracker » Logged



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