Sunday, January 25, 2009

On TCM: Barbarosa

It's a damn shame that Westerns are pretty much tumbleweed city anymore. I have last year's, Appaloosa, waiting to watch on DVD--I think that was the only one to come out of Hollywood last year, not-so-hot on the heels of 2007's 3:10 to Yuma remake. It took me awhile to come around to the uniquely American genre, and I wish a larger audience would, too--just enough of one to get a few good ones in the pipeline, to encourage a more natural flow.

According to the invaluable Overlook Film Encyclopedia on the Western, 1982 wasn't such a barnburner, either, with just seven in release. (1983 coughed up just one, the sci-fi-ish Time Rider). But the brand was good that year, and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, The Grey Fox, and The Man from Snowy River all merit a look. The best, however, was Barbarosa, the American debut of Australia's Fred Schepisi, who proved himself a landscape artist with the picture's incredible vistas of the high deserts of Big Bend National Park, shot by Ian Baker.

You wouldn't know it, though, from indifferent TV and home video prints, which carelessly crop the image. Tonight at 10:15pm, however, Turner Classic Movies corrects this with what should be an eye-filling letterboxed image. I'll be watching for the background. What really counts, though, is what's in the foreground, an engaging and beautiful story about the importance of myth and the catastrophe of its absence--in the form of an ambitious, exciting, and amusing Western, teaming Willie Nelson (at his most iconic) and Gary Busey, with a lovely final role for veteran Gilbert Roland to boot. The film is being aired as part of a cult movies tribute--and you will want to saddle up with fellow Barbarosa mavens once you've seen it.

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