Monday, April 5, 2010
I remember 1973, the year High Plains Drifter was released. We knew the government had lied and was still lying about the war. Pretty soon we'd learn that the President lied about Watergate (by August, when this film was released, we had a pretty good idea). Nothing was holding together. It was hard to believe in things.
What a perfect time for the most nihilistic Western I've ever seen. Yes, Leone films take place on wide, desolate spaces that look more like alien planets than the American West. Yes, Westerns had taken a more "realistic" turn, with dirty little towns occupied by amoral hypocrites. But High Plains Drifter takes that bleakness to a new high or low. There is nothing to hold on to. Eastwood's no-name character exploits these townspeople's awe of his shooting skill to embark on a path which will end up with them destroying themselves; no further action by Eastwood is necessary.
On the way, Eastwood rapes two women until they like it--one of the odder notions of the 70s that I am always startled to see actresses give their tacet confirmation to by agreeing to act these scenes. Oh, and he lights dynamite with his cigar and blows up half of the hotel (the baddies just tried to kill him in his room). The film seems to want to blend the mise en scene of Leone with the casual, but somewhat humorless violence of Don Seigel; Eastwood's two directorial mentors.
It moves in that sluggish manner typical of both Eastwood and the 70s, but it pays off in the last 30 minutes or so. Still , if you are going to have a look, have something jolly to pop into the DVD player right after, because Drifter posits no happy future for the human race.