Friday, January 6, 2012


This blog has moved to, where I can add pages and have a more extensive website. I will miss the traffic I get from "nextblog," but hope some of you will follow me over there.

You can get to the new blog here:

Or simply at

Hope to see you there!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Meek's Cutoff

We started the new year by watching a really wonderful movie that somehow didnt' make it on my radar until I saw it on Euan Kerr's Top 10 list on Minnesota Public Radio's website. Technically, the movie came out in 2010, but I'm glad he included it.

It's a Western directed by a woman, Kelly Reichardt, which in itself is unusual. There was not a word of dialogue until minute six, and for a small budget film it has wonderful cinematography. It also has some major acting talent, namely Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson (I love her!) and Will Patton. It's no Days of Heaven, but it's aspiring to that same elemental, beautiful, contemplative vision of America.

The film is really a deeply affective and effective exploration of otherness. The families are lost in the Oregon wilderness with a guide, Stephen Meek, who is all bluster and bravado and has also clearly lost his way. They are all supremely vulnerable and at each other's mercy. When they encounter an Indian and forcibly make him a part of their party, thinking he can lead them to water, they are at the mercy of a being that is completely other.

There are nice touches-- Meek's face is completely obscured by facial hair, making you want to claw your way to the bottom of him-- is he for real or is he a fake? Can you trust him? The Indian, bare-chested and with an utterly blank yet open face, is other in a different way that is also, in some sense, the same. It is "the West" that is other, the landscape that is impenetrable.

Some people might find the way the film treats gender a big heavy-handed, but I liked it. When there are discussions to be had about the settlers' predicament, they are had by the men, while the sound man and we spectators watch with the women from a slight distance. This adds to the sense of being lost and dependent, without a sense that the women are oppressed. They are just in their roles, as are the men. The main couple, the Teatherows (Williams and Patton), speak intimately at night and he asks her opinion, shares information and engages her in the drama of the journey then.

The film is based on real accounts of the journey of a wagon train guided by Meek via a "short-cut" in 1845. The larger wagon train broke into two parties, and Meek accompanied the smaller, led by Teatherow. However, it was likely not this small, just three families and their wagons. Meek's wife was also in the actual party. But the small ensemble allows for the meditative feel of the film while no character gets short shrift. Also, a wide variety of responses to the situation can be given by these characters.

All in all, it was a very compelling film, and I highly recommend it. It does feel, too, like we are starting the winter film viewing off right! 

For a good overview of the historical wagon journey in 1945 across Meek's cutoff, click here.