I was bound to like this movie. A bonafide gunslinger whose plot involves making it to the station on time for the eponymous Yuma-bound local, starring two of the best actors in Hollywood, featuring excellent cinematography and mis en scene, AND based on an Elmore Leonard short story? This was a movie made for Yesterday’s Salad. But no matter how much I expected to like it, I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, nor this interesting. 3:10 to Yuma played no small part in this year’s Western revival, which I hope sticks around for a while. Indeed, with movies as good as this year’s crop, it’s hard to understand why the genre stopped being relevant in the first place.

There’s nothing new in saying that the Western is an integral part of American mythology, if not the dominant myth. But there was a time when this was unacknowledged, and Robert Warshow, one of America’s great lost intellectuals, deserves much of the credit for its acceptance. Warshow, on the way to becoming one of America’s most important film-critics, died of a heart attack at 37. Thankfully, he was relatively prolific and we have the wonderful collection The Immediate Experience. In his essay, “Movie Chronicle: The Westerner,” Warshow asks what the westerner fights for:

“The Westerner himself, when an explanation is asked of him…is likely to say that he does what he “has to do.” If justice and order did not continually demand his protection, he would be without a calling…What he defends, at bottom, is the purity of his own image–in fact his honor. This is what makes him invulnerable…he fights not for advantage and not for the right, but to state what he is…and the movies which over and over again tell his story are probably the last art form in which the concept of honor retains its strength.”

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not 3:10 to Yuma fits Warshow’s paradigm. What do people fight for in this movie? Russel Crowe’s Ben Wade fights for money above everything else, and then psychological domination second. He is a master manipulator, who revels in driving others under his sphere of influence; he is not Warshow’s ideal “Westerner,” though most of his goldlust is directed at the equally immoral railroad, so he isn’t all bad. He may be fighting for his image, but he is not the Hero. Most of the other characters fight for money, even the reluctant Christian Bale. Warshow tells us that money in Westerns is not so much money as it is a quantification of morality. On that front, Bale is the only one who can be said to be moral. He is fighting not for money, but everything that was taken from him.

This includes his manhood. The first half of the film is in many ways an investigation of the concept of manhood. Russel Crowe tells Christian Bale that he’s not a man because he doesn’t reach out and take what he wants. And, sure enough, Bale is impotent: he lost a leg in the war (Warshow tells us that all Westerns seem to take place in some sort of imagined “1870”), and though he carries a gun, he doesn’t fire it during the first half of the film. Instead others take everything he has, including Wade who tries to take his wife (the lovely Gretchen Mol). Bale’s character arc is the story of recovering his manhood, while Crowe’s, not surprisingly, is redemption, the rediscovery of his moral code. This was bound to happen. Wade’s manipulations are so attractive that we want him to succeed. Indeed, it’s not surprising that Wade’s top lieutenant, ably played by Ben Foster, appears to be in love with him. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s Note:  Ibiteyoureyes was (mistakenly!) under the impression that the Who Should Write Superman series was started in order to discuss who should write the sequel to Superman Returns, and not the comic book(s). Blame his bad memory, and blame the disappointment that was this movie, and blame The Bush Administration (why not?),  for this mistake.

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My first experience reading Frank Miller was not a good one. I picked up a copy of one of the Sin City graphic novels, “watched” a guy get hit by a car while grumbling campy dialogue for a few pages, and then put that copy right down.

There are two important points that I want to make, before someone from the Legion of Geeks (of which I – in addition to most of the saladeers – am probably a low-ranking member) flips out starts an anti-salad video blogging campaign (leave Frank Miller alone!) against this sweet and innocent textual blog.

  1. Let’s get this much gay at the inset: Miller has some serious talent. As some of his work has shown – he can take everything that is good about what is generally understood as the noir genre – and hone it into something special. Unlike some people, he can successfully turn style into substance. It just seems to me, though, that after a few early successes with this strategy, he got too big for his britches. And then his britches snapped open, like the britches of a certain other someone, and he was left with just some junk hanging in the air.
  2. I, as a person, and a biter of eyes, subject “the everyday” and “the mundane” to unhealthy levels of analysis and critique. It’s just the way I shook out. What does this have to do with Frank Miller? As I’ve pointed out, Miller uses many of the themes and devices inherent to noir, and I am a big, big noir fan – and one that places a lot of value on the importance of this genre’s roots. And I believe those roots should be respected. So when Miller (in my opinion) exploits the melodrama and the wisecracking and the tough-guy acts and the sex and etc. that serve as the genre’s main devices and tries to pass them off as the essence of the genre itself – rather than simply utilizing them to their fullest dramatic potential – that, quite simply, boils my bum.

Now…that being said…I firmly believe in battling my own early prejudices and judgments and giving everything as fair a shake as I can. So come over here and let me show you what things look like 180 degrees in the other direction.

I have read two Miller novels since that first, dirty dip in his bibliography, those two novels being: The Dark Knight Returns, and The Dark Knight Strikes Again. The quality and the success of these novels (particularly the first one) have convinced me that Miller should reach back in time, remember what made him good, and write Superman.

Read the rest of this entry »