Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pimpin Ain't Easy

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) directed by Robert Altman

Robert Altman, Julie Christie, and Warren Beatty, prove the age old wisdom that no matter what era you live in "pimping aint easy."
See Beatty strutt around in the furriest fur coat this side of "The Mack", spouting authentic semi nonsensical frontier shit talking "You boys gotta make up your minds if you want to get your cookies. Cause if you want to get your cookies, I've got girls up here that'll do more tricks than a goddamn monkey on a hundred yards of grapevine."...? Of course this is all set against lovely cinematography that makes everything resemble a faded photograph from the turn of the century. Also the wonderfull folk musical stylings of Leonard Cohen, whose lyrics are used almost as a kind of 3rd person poetic narrator, and simple single chords add an extra vulnerability to Altman's "anti-western", where we might have had a thundering Marricone score before. There are no Indians, and nearly no cowboys here, no deserts, or sherrifs, and at high noon, everyone is eating lunch.
McCabe rides into town, and some rumors start circulating about him bieng a bad ass who killed a man, and the oppurtunist that he is, he rolls with em. He's goes about building a saloon, and buying some local women to serve as prostitutes. He seems to know little about "the pimp game" as it were, until "Mrs. Miller" shows up, who is even a better shit talker, manipulater, hustler, than he is.
She coninces him to open up a proper bordello, with baths and silk sheets, and to let her run it. She will provide the girls, keep them healthy and busy(so they dont turn to religion), select the johns (make sure their disease free), and run the day to day work, splitting the rest 50/50, after he recoups expenses. And all is well, until a mining operation wants to buy out all that he's built, and ever the shit talker he thinks he can bluff them off, or into raising their selling price. He is wrong though, and they send desperadoes to kill him. Of course, Mccabe isn't just bluffing, he doesnt want to sell, preserving the town he's began to built, where he runs the show, and where he hopes to win the heart and respect of Mrs. Miller, who is shrewd enough to indulge him, but it would seem more concerned about her buisness and personal well bieng than anything else. It's a lovely film, disarming in it's realism, virtuoso acting, haunting music, faded imagery, and wintery locales(the snow at the end was looked so wonderous I thought it was a special effect). The "anti-western" style isn't just a gimmik though, it overlaps and serves as the bridge, between the imagery, the setting, and the characters.
The Wild West as we understand it today is a myth, but that doesnt mean the characters in the story or the people back then didnt beleive it too, didnt have their own mythic way of interpreting the world. Mccabe's dilemna at the end, is that he is forced to live up to his myth and the myth of the heroic male (think "Unforgiven" if Eastwood, really was just all talk) . He has the chance to escape but choses to stay in order to impress Mrs. Miller. "If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain't going to think much of him.", he tells her heading towards certain peril. Mccabe's love, his first authentic experience, not based around notions of being the man in charge, is his undoing.
It's a grim deconstructive film that takes American myths and economic realities and blends them into a uniqe humane experience. Everything in this film feels real, despite how stylized it is. There is drama though, and humor, and Atlman even can't resist the urge to a suspense filled hold-your-breath finale. There's something cathartic in Mccabe's frustruated, big talking, fuck up existence, where in one tender scene where he rehearses what he wants to finally tell Mrs. Miller, "I got poetry in me. But I'm not a learned man, and have sense enough not to write it down...but I got poetry in me."

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