Friday, June 11, 2010

100 years, 100 films 9: The Outlaw and his Wife (1918)

This movie is a slow burn. It starts, and there's about half an hour of not-that-interesting stuff about farm life and bla bla bla, and then it suddenly moves off of the farm, into the wild, and becomes interesting. Then it becomes really interesting. And, before I really knew what had come over me, I was rivetted. Sure, it could be argued that the stuff that I was rivetted by was actually just cheap melodrama, and cheap melodrama that doesn't even make any sense. And that argument would be correct.

Except for the fact that it does make sense. Oh sure, it makes no goddamn sense in any sort of real world way, but it makes a weird, compelling film-sense, as well as a peculiar sort of emotional sense, and it had an almost physical effect on me, so I'll forgive it its total lack of logic.

Let me explain what I'm talking about: there is a scene in the film where the titular wife (as well as the titular outlaw) are being attacked by a bunch of men on horses, trying to arrest the outlaw. The wife screams, "they'll never take my baby!" Runs over to the edge of a nearby cliff, and throws her child over the cliff. Now, in the cold, clear light of day, I obviously realise that this makes no sense. How is anything that the men on horses would do to a baby going to be worse than death? No mother would ever, ever think like that. It makes absolutely no fucking sense.

And yet, in the heat of the moment, with the emotional intensity of the scene constantly escalating, the moment of the wife throwing the baby off the cliff has a real visceral power. And that sense of intensive shock I felt was worth the fact that it didn't make sense.

The lack of logic isn't the film's only problem. It's ridiculously episodic - the film will often just jump two years, seven years, fifteen years into the future, with little or no attempt to make the jumps flow properly, or explain how far ahead the jump is. And the first half an hour, while certainly not bad, is a little tedious, particularly when compared to everything that happens afterwards.

So yeah, it's not a perfect film. But I don't care. It was a damn good film, and I can say without hesitation that it was the best film of my 100 years, 100 films experiment so far.

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