Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I find true about TRUE GRIT

The language and story of True Grit captured me in equal measure when I first read the book. What the Coen Brothers did with that material on screen is honor and preserve it, demanding that we let out the seams in our minds to accommodate the larger vision of what Charles Portis' novel only allowed us to imagine.

Its first chapter closes as Mattie recounts her father's death, how he is robbed by Tom Chaney while on-lookers simply watch, then scatter. "...when he finished his thieving he raced to the end of the street and struck the night watchman at the stock barn a fierce blow to the mouth with his rifle stock, knocking him silly. He put a bridle on Papa's horse Judy and rode out bareback. Darkness swallowed him up. He might have taken the time to saddle the horse or hitched up three spans of mules to a Concord stagecoach and smoked a pipe as it seems no one in that city was after him. He had mistaken the drummers for men. 'The wicked flee when none pursueth.'"



I am not a reviewer. I am able to say what I like and why but have no capacity for detached evaluation. This is the comment I left to Antares-Cryptos' post about the dearth of foreign, independent and original movies such as we once enjoyed in profusion. To write about True Grit had been on my mind since seeing the DVD several weeks ago. Boiled down to comment size, it says what I intended. Further expounding seems almost unnecessary.

Even though it had Academy Award nominations, the remake (yes, I know) of TRUE GRIT had so many elements that attract me to a film...the cinematography/direction, the way the landscape becomes a character, an integral part of the movie; Carter Burwell's music, which weaves old hymns with new composition, gives a sense of an unstated yet abiding peace while the action is far from peaceful. And intelligent, uniquely phrased language spoken by actors who clearly understood what they were saying. I intend to do a post about it, but perhaps that ship has already sailed. I never defend remakes. This is, for me, rare and exceptional.

Much of my knowledge of the west comes from movies, the ones directed by John Ford in particular. The Searchers, released in 1956, while told from a viewpoint of the time regarding who were the good guys and who were the bad, communicated the vastness, the loneliness of what is still, in part, untamed land. Cinematographer Winton D. Hoch, who won three Oscars for other films, seemed ideally matched with Ford in letting the camera tell so much of what motivated, or drove, the characters, especially with the scenes in Monument Valley. I follow one Montana blog writer, whose photos and text convey how little-changed some of this country remains. I do not know those spaces, nor the prairies, first hand.

What I do know, or should I say believe, is that character is shaped by place. The people we meet in True Grit, for good or ill, are the products of their roots in the land and the lives it prescribed for them: politics of the Civil War, crops and livestock, encroaching civilization, expedient and lawless paths, terrain-specific wisdom, and courage. Director of photography, Roger Deakins, was also D.P. on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford , another example of the camera giving voice to its own narrative on the way of things.

14 comments:

Jayne said...

Marylinn- I saw your comment earlier today when I stopped by at Antares' place. Prior to reading what you wrote, I found it impossible to believe that the original True Grit could ever be improved upon. That movie is one of the few that was near and dear to me as a girl. I was Mattie, as I was Scout, as I was Golightly (I know, that one doesn't quite fit, but I lover her!), and I wouldn't ever want to be acquainted with them in any way other than by novel or original movie.
But your post convinces me that my idea of Mattie, and the story of True Grit, won't be diluted by new images. The video you posted is stunning. The music, serene and moving. Now, I look forward to--for the first time--a remake.
(And we just watched the original True Grit with the kids!)
Thank you for this, Marylinn! :)

Elisabeth said...

Would you believe, Marylinn I've never seen True Grit? But I must. I must. Thanks for a wonderful review and much more besides.

Penal-Colony said...

This is a very fine review. Someone has remarked that Portis could've been the Cormac McCarthy of his time but that preserving his sense of humour was more important to him. I like that.

The Coen Bros did what the first movie failed to do, they restored Mattie as the character Portis intended her to be, ie, the one with the true grit. Bridges is a force of nature, that court scene with him bathed in sunlight is a feast. Even Damon isn't half bad.

Cheers.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - You're welcome. I did not reference the original, since they are separate, unique entities and one does not need to be less to make the other more. Mattie, the actress and the character, is all a fan could hope for. Will you let me know what you think, once you've seen it? And they'd better never try remaking ...TIFFANY'S or ...MOCKINGBIRD. :D

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elisabeth - Thank you. And now you can see both versions, not to compare but rather to expand your options. I have been missing from your blog for much too long. I will see you soon.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Penal-Colony - Thank you, good to have you visit. I find much that speaks to me in Cormac McCarthy's books, but humor is not one of the elements. I'm glad that Portis valued his above other considerations. TRUE GRIT is the only work of his I've read...that will change. I agree with your takes on the movie, and, well, I've already professed my unqualified love for its visual richness. Cheers to you.

Antares Cryptos said...

I'm being a little lazy and posting my reply:

@Marylinn, couldn't have put it better;) True Grit has been the exception in a recent CGI fest. "Clearly understood what they're saying". Yes, I know exactly what you mean.
I think that maybe one reason I appreciate foreign movies so much is that they select actors rather than celebrities.

Proof that there's parallel thinking, my response to Jayne included that if they ever attempt the perfection of remaking Mockingbird....
I'll have no other choice but to...
not watch it.

World cinema, foreign movies, independents didn't just transport me to other worlds and other times, but were often visual eye-candy. Simply put; I miss them.

KleinsteMotte said...

Maybe you can someday visit the site you have only seen on screen. First hand experience is the best!!
I love foreign films and documentaries. Just watched Incendies on Netflix. No English subtitles but I know French.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares-Cryptos - We, the fellowers, do seem frequently like-minded. And thanks for posting your reply here. Back THEN, whenever it was, we could tell exploitation from a "real" movie (watched HERCULES UNCHAINED on Mystery Science Theater the other night) and choose accordingly. I will not rant, just say I feel overpowered at times by cynicism around us, by aiming so many products for consumption by 12 year old boys (which is not always a bad thing, I sometimes like monster movies but not dumb ones), for being expedient, pretending that ginormous is a real word, and thinking that smart is an affliction in need of a cure.

Marylinn Kelly said...

KleinsteMotte - My stepmother saw Monument Valley for the first time when she was past 60, told of waking up in the motel, wandering outside with her cup of coffee and...there it was. The wonder of place. Even on film it takes my breath away...something, especially, about water and waterfalls. One of the many benefits of being multi-lingual, not being put off by no subtitles.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I just put True Grit to the top of my Netflix queue.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - I believe, I hope, you will not be disappointed. Thank you for trusting me. I'd like to know what you think.

T. Clear said...

I loved this new True Grit. And I admit to a long-standing crush on Jeff Bridges, but in this movie he was so incredibly believable I swore I could smell him in the theatre!

Marylinn Kelly said...

T. - Long-standing crush that even makes room for things in which he was good but...like AGAINST ALL ODDS. Rereading the TRUE GRIT, he is Cogburn, thoroughly believable in every sense...olfactory included. xo