Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

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Ishmael
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#101 Post by Ishmael » Fri Mar 02, 2012 3:04 pm

warren oates wrote:A Man Escaped is fresh in my mind, so here goes, considering that it fully achieves the perfect balance of arty minimalism and gripping narrative that I imagine a film like Meek's was aspiring to.
I didn't think Meek's Cutoff was all that great, either, but why not address what the film actually is rather than speculating on what you think that the director might have wanted it to be or on what you wish it were instead?

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Cold Bishop
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#102 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Mar 02, 2012 4:28 pm

domino harvey wrote:Right. Whatever you do, don't read one more sentence to finish it
Der Müde Tod wrote:That's a pretty meek review, Domino.
Surprised you read it all. I couldn't even get through it: "meandering had been protracted..." was my cut off.
Der Müde Tod wrote:That's a pretty meek review, Domino.
Surprised you read it all. I couldn't even get through it: "meandering had been protracted..." was my cut off.
Der Müde Tod wrote:That's a pretty meek review, Domino.
Surprised you read it all. I couldn't even get through it: "meandering had been protracted..." was my cut off.
Der Müde Tod wrote:That's a pretty meek review, Domino.
Surprised you read it all. I couldn't even get through it: "meandering had been protracted..." was my cut off.
Either ways, I'm so over this topic. Does anyone know where the thread about Promises Written in Water is? I desperately need to find the thread about Promises Written in Water!

Alright... alright... there's an actual discussion going on. I'll show myself out.

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warren oates
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#103 Post by warren oates » Fri Mar 02, 2012 4:49 pm

Ishmael wrote:
warren oates wrote:A Man Escaped is fresh in my mind, so here goes, considering that it fully achieves the perfect balance of arty minimalism and gripping narrative that I imagine a film like Meek's was aspiring to.
I didn't think Meek's Cutoff was all that great, either, but why not address what the film actually is rather than speculating on what you think that the director might have wanted it to be or on what you wish it were instead?
Not to get too Clintonesque on you, but I suppose that just depends on what your definition of the word "is" is. Since on paper Meek's seems like exactly the kind of film that should totally appeal to me -- lover of slow art films and Westerns that I am -- and since it so thoroughly didn't, I've been trying to figure out why. But I haven't read anything that so accurately summed up my experience of this film until Domino's capsule review in this thread.

So I don't think it's unreasonable, if you believe a film has in some respect failed to be all that it could have been, to speculate about the filmmaker's intentions based on what's there.

If Meek's was trying to tell a compelling story, it seems to me that it had all the right ingredients, but failed to take sufficient advantage of them. Be ambiguous about anything you like in your art movie, but if it's about the stakes (that is, why the characters care about their predicament and why we should too or even just about how serious their predicament may be), then you do so at the risk of the audience's indifference.

And if it was going for something less focused on narrative, more along the lines of, say, the Jeanne Dielman of pioneer films, well, it failed on that account too. Like Domino said, it would have had to have been twice as long at least. And I'd add more visually interesting. I don't get bored by long takes easily, but most of the ones in this film didn't hold my attention.

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swo17
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#104 Post by swo17 » Fri Mar 02, 2012 6:03 pm

warren oates wrote:Be ambiguous about anything you like in your art movie, but if it's about the stakes (that is, why the characters care about their predicament and why we should too or even just about how serious their predicament may be), then you do so at the risk of the audience's indifference.
I don't think the film is about the high stakes of wilderness survival so much as the nature of leadership. If the narrative is rambling, vague, and eventually unresolved, it reflects on the dubious guidance provided by Greenwood's Meek, which has all sorts of parallels in modern politics and elsewhere.

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warren oates
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#105 Post by warren oates » Fri Mar 02, 2012 6:22 pm

swo17 wrote:I don't think the film is about the high stakes of wilderness survival so much as the nature of leadership. If the narrative is rambling, vague, and eventually unresolved, it reflects on the dubious guidance provided by Greenwood's Meek, which has all sorts of parallels in modern politics and elsewhere.
Yeah, but I suppose that part of what's missing for me in Meek's is about just how poorly I feel like this theme is dramatized. Everybody in the film, Meek included, seems remarkably blah about what's unfolding. It's hard to get any traction about why dubious leadership matters in this specific story to anyone in it, even Meek when he's about to be deposed by a Native American who doesn't speak a word of English and may even be intentionally leading them astray. Finally, I thought to myself, there's going to be some actual conflict. But, no. It was at that moment when I felt truly befuddled by the film.

Though I suppose I could also ask: If, as you say, the stakes of their wilderness survival aren't all that high or relevant, why should the quality of their leadership matter to them or to us?

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swo17
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#106 Post by swo17 » Fri Mar 02, 2012 6:34 pm

I didn't say that the stakes aren't high, just that that's not what the movie seemed to me to be about. Meek talks a big talk, but once it becomes evident how high the stakes really are--right when a great leader is needed most--he resorts to playing down his complicity in the settlers' predicament.

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Brian C
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#107 Post by Brian C » Fri Mar 02, 2012 6:47 pm

I think also the situation the characters find themselves in was probably not all that unusual back in those times. The very nature of westward expansion meant that settlers would frequently not know where they were or necessarily when/where the vital essentials they needed would be found, especially if they found themselves off the beaten path. So what you see is something akin to mild annoyance at first, since they've possibly been in this situation before or at least expected that it might happen, with the urgency gradually becoming greater as their margin for error becomes smaller.

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warren oates
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#108 Post by warren oates » Fri Mar 02, 2012 8:49 pm

If we're supposed to be dwelling in uncertainty with the characters, then that uncertainty needs to be existentially palpable to them and it needs to be conveyed to us dramatically. And we can't be uncertain about the details of their uncertainty. Once again I can't help thinking of how well A Man Escaped handles this same tension. Fontaine is uncertain of so many things -- but we feel the weight of all this with him and we understand how each unanswered question (the height of the walls, the fate of a neighbor, his initial lack of any real plan) matters to him and why.

I guess "mild annoyance" isn't yet a story to me either. I'm all for simplicity and slow-building narrative. But until there's some kind of crisis, there's nothing like a story. If you're having a drink with a friend would you rather hear about the time they thought they possibly might have been almost lost in Death Valley and they were nearly running low on gas? Or about the time they got lost in Death Valley with a gas gauge that read "E"?

So maybe what little story there is in Meek's just has the misfortune of starting far too late. Though it would still seem a tad underdeveloped too.

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Brian C
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#109 Post by Brian C » Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:18 pm

warren oates wrote:I guess "mild annoyance" isn't yet a story to me either. I'm all for simplicity and slow-building narrative. But until there's some kind of crisis, there's nothing like a story. If you're having a drink with a friend would you rather hear about the time they thought they possibly might have been almost lost in Death Valley and they were nearly running low on gas? Or about the time they got lost in Death Valley with a gas gauge that read "E"?
Depends on who's telling the story.

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warren oates
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#110 Post by warren oates » Sat Mar 03, 2012 4:25 am

#-o You got me. Except I'd stipulate that it pretty much takes a poet of neurosis and digression to sell the non-story story. And Reichardt isn't that poet.

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Alan Smithee
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#111 Post by Alan Smithee » Sat Mar 03, 2012 1:35 pm

Are you familiar with her other work Warren? I'd say that Meek's Cutoff is an extension of her style but maybe since it's sort of in the genre of a western it sets up certain unfulfilled expectations. As swo pointed out, beyond any stylistic enjoyment one can get out of it, it works as a simple political allegory that would apply to many ages not just our own. It also has a bit of the female empowerment transgression going on within the genre that is rare. On a purely technical level I thought the photography and sound were some of the best of that year.

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warren oates
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#112 Post by warren oates » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:02 pm

I've only seen Old Joy mostly as a fan of Will Oldham and I was underwhelmed by the film, which is definitely at the bottom of my "films about two people taking a walk" list, well below others like Blissfully Yours and Gerry.

The technical side of Reichardt's work in the two films I've seen has always seemed to me to be competent and tasteful without ever achieving the kind of poetic heights I'm looking for in similar art films.

I get what everyone's saying about the political allegory too, but even on that level I feel like the film's supporters are willfully ignoring how very much a poorly structured and badly dramatized story gets in the way. As a thought experiment, how about re-imagining recent U.S. history as an alternate narrative with the story structure of Meek's:

Suppose there were an alternate history film called Bush's Cutoff (because Journeys With George is already taken). And this film is about a tribe of humans who chose a dude named Bush to be their king because he seemed like a fun guy to hang around and told funny stories (even if he sometimes mangled the words). Well, most of the film is taken up by nothing of consequence. True to his image, Bush goes on a vacation a lot. He ignores one crucial warning of possible trouble on the horizon (something about "enemies determined to attack") and fails to follow through on a previous incident somewhere in some desert port where a ship was blown up. Then on the clearest autumn afternoon his leadership is severely tested by a disastrous surprise attack and he immediately resigns and retires to his ranch, but not before appointing a guy named Gore to be his successor. In the last third or fourth of the film, the new leader unveils his plan to treat the attacks as a law enforcement and limited special operations-type problem, thereby averting two wars and capturing the mastermind behind the attacks by sending a couple hundred SOF soldiers to assault his mountain hideaway. Yet the film ends before we ever find out if this works.

See what I mean? You can't really tell a story about dubious leadership unless that leadership is actually tested dramatically and found to be lacking.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#113 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:31 pm

That doesn't sound like a great movie, but I don't think the ambiguity there is at all the problem with it, and I don't think it was a problem in Meek's Cutoff. I think, as an audience member, I feel safe in determining which leadership style is more successful without necessarily having Reichardt outrightly tell me whether I am right or wrong- I can see how the different strategies work within the small community, and maintain my focus on recognizable human interaction and character rather than contrived events. I don't think the movie is at all poorly structured or badly dramatized, I think it's just not interested in doing the things you want it to do, and if you did not persist in trying to watch a different movie you may have had less trouble with that.

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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#114 Post by AnamorphicWidescreen » Sat Dec 27, 2014 8:00 pm

Just recently saw Meek's Cutoff for the first time; I found it a nice small indy film. Though not earth-shattering, it wasn't meant to be...Like Reichardt's other films, this didn't have much dialogue & a lot of the focus was on the landscape...

I think it effectively captured the humdrum moments & at the same time dangerous trials & tribulations (lack of water, Indian threat(s), etc.) of the settlers crossing the plains in the 1800's.

I also like films that have open-ended, ambiguous finales -
SpoilerShow
i.e., in the last scene was the American Indian going to leave the settlers & come back with his compatriots to destroy them (as they feared), or was he leaving to get water & bring it back to them?

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hearthesilence
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#115 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Dec 27, 2014 11:50 pm

AnamorphicWidescreen wrote:I think it effectively captured the humdrum moments & at the same time dangerous trials & tribulations (lack of water, Indian threat(s), etc.) of the settlers crossing the plains in the 1800's.
One of my favorite moments in the film is the beginning when they're alerted to some danger, and we get an unbroken, locked down medium shot of Michelle Williams firing a gun and then loading it for the next shot. It takes forever, and maybe a third of the way through her actions, you realize just how totally f***ed they are if they have to face up to something like an ambush or attack.

Beautiful film too, I think the choice of academy ratio was brilliant.

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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

#116 Post by FrauBlucher » Sun Jan 01, 2023 2:48 pm

I just watched this recently. First time seeing it since seeing it theatrically. Just like loving it back then the feeling hasn't changed. You feel like you're on the journey with them. This is probably as close to what the pioneers felt like, as opposed to the more glamorous wagon train portrayals of Classic Hollywood. I don't have a problem with the ending. Sure the production ran out of money but it still feels right. The viewership ends not knowing what awaits the pioneers, as they themselves have no idea what lies ahead.

I do wish that Oscilloscope gave us more supplements.

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hearthesilence
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Re: Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

#117 Post by hearthesilence » Sat May 18, 2024 11:57 pm

hearthesilence wrote:
Sat Oct 09, 2010 1:35 pm
Saw it last night. Easily her best looking production - for the first 20 minutes or so, I thought she was going to craft a magnificent throwback to Murnau's silent masterpieces. About 2/3 in, it started to feel pretty thin...not quite a triumph, but it still has a lot to recommend.
bkimball wrote:Curious to know if the Academy ratio is an artistic choice or a budgetary choice. It shouldn't matter for the viewer unless the intent is to capture something unique to the ratio.
Dennis Lim asked this during the Q&A. Artistic choice - paraphrasing here, but they were trying to craft an anti-Western of sorts, and wanted to avoid "vistas."

Also, Reichardt joked that every time the script mentioned "so-and-so is suddenly surprised by the appearance of such-and-such," she thought, "how is that possible? I can see TWENTY MILES out in every direction!" In her view, the Academy ratio helped solve this problem, constricting the view/compositions.
I posted that almost 14 years ago - man, does time fly.

Metrograph screened this tonight in 35mm as part of an ACE screening that was open to the public, and editor Julia Bloch held a discussion with Reichardt herself. (FWIW, print had a central band of horizontal scratches through at least one reel of the film - goddamn whichever person inflicted this damage on the print, it was a bit distracting in some of the more open and spacious compositions.)

I hadn't seen the film since 2011, and surprisingly the film left a bigger impression this time around. A lot of it may have to do with the cultural changes of the past decade because while certain elements were always noticeable, they seemed to carry much more weight now. Another factor is when the suspense or the mystery of the plot is gone, in which case you're paying closer attention to other things rather than what will happen.

As a result, what leaves the biggest impression is the depiction of a woman's place in 19th century America (which certain people strongly disproved in this thread, but it looks like they left this place not long after others pushed back at their asinine complaints). It doesn't hit you on the head with blunt statements, it does it all through observation, mostly picking up details that would've been unremarkable back then or even a few decades ago but look extremely egregious now. And it doesn't water down the complex reality of how marginalization and prejudice works in society. One moment in particular was addressed in the Q&A, but when it happened, it reminded me that Quentin Tarantino trashed this movie as one of the worst in 2011.
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I don't recall him ever giving a reason why, but given how virtually every film he's made after the '90s has left me cold, feeling empty and/or disgusted, I can't say I care to know. The moment in question was the casual use of the n-word by one of the women. FWIW, the film draws from an actual historic incident, and an audience member pointed out that in the women's real-life diaries, one could find the use of the n-word over and over again, something that stunned Reichardt when she read them. She didn't want to use it with the same frequency in the dialogue as it appeared in their written diary pages, but once was enough and everything it seemed to say as well as the entire scope of her methodology sharply contrasts with Tarantino's cavalier attitude towards using the same word in his films. Reichardt seems to get the implications far more than Tarantino, and as a result, just the one instance says a whole lot more in the way she uses it.

Amusingly, there's even a "Mexican standoff," but Reichardt employs it in a way that clearly demonstrates the philosophical differences between both filmmakers - Tarantino is all about the macho posturing, but in this film, that posturing is just toxic, what needlessly prompts the standoff to begin with. Watching it play out on screen now in 2024 with the malicious hostility and distrust inflicted by Meek on to their prisoner, one even gets the sense it's apiece with the xenophobic conservatism that's sadly become a very visible part of American culture.
FWIW, Reichardt mentioned she kind of resented it when people called this a slow film, and I can see what she means because it didn't feel slow at all. A few people here said it moved at a snail's pace, but at least on repeat viewing, it seemed pretty brisk to me, even the moments where they held on an action that was supposed to seem laborious and time-consuming (like loading the shot gun).

EDIT: Forgot a few interesting details - since this was an ACE event with a film editor moderating, naturally the questions were geared towards editing and post-production. Reichardt says she never looks at the dailies/rushes, and this was the only time she was ever able to shoot in 35mm. She loves to shoot in Super 16 but Certain Women was the last time that happened - the cost of film is simply too much of a luxury now, but even though she's gone to digital, they apparently tweak the image to make it look like film, hah!

She's actually the editor on this film, with no others credited with her. When she watched the assembly for Meek's Cutoff, she and someone else - forgot who, but it wasn't Todd Haynes - were very disappointed. She then proceeded to make a very tight cut that was probably on the short side, and that was basically the rough cut, not just a mere assembly. Then she started adding things back in, and that was the whole process - it was basically the opposite of what editing is usually like where you're mostly whittling it down. She called it "editing in reverse" and it didn't sound like it was planned or done by design, it just happened that way, and she added that she does not recommend editing in that fashion. Regardless, I can't argue with the results, the editing is impeccable, at least from a final result evaluation, not of the process to get there.

She said it was a gift to have someone like Haynes who actually gave real feedback - not just someone she can trust but someone who is "get your pencils out" rather than "yeah, everything's great!" One note Haynes had was that she had to establish the idea of water (i.e. the need for it and its scarcity) early on.

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