Thursday, September 15, 2011
Today I watched Johnny Guitar, directed by Nicholas Ray in 1954. I really am not sure what to make of this movie. Maybe I needed to watch it in a better mood, when I was more ready to concentrate on it and not just laze around? I just feel confused by the whole thing. It was very strange. After I watched it, I felt like how I did when I first saw the spoofy 1967 Casino Royale when I was like, 9 or 10. I had no idea it was a comedy, I didn't know any of the actors in it, and I did not understand a single part of it, and I remember for a long time it was my most hated movie, because I never could figure out what had happened in it or why. I feel like I'm just sort of missing something with Johnny Guitar, maybe, be it that it was my mood or that I don't know these actors well enough or something.
The plot is pretty goofy and I don't think really matters. Ebert doesn't mention that the literal plot is the strong point of this film, so I feel safe just giving you an IMDB summary: "Vienna has built a saloon outside of town, and she hopes to build her own town once the railroad is put through, but the townsfolk want her gone. When four men hold up a stagecoach and kill a man the town officials, led by Emma Small, come to the saloon to grab four of Vienna's friends, the Dancin' Kid and his men. Vienna stands strong against them, and is aided by the presence of an old acquaintance of hers, Johnny Guitar, who is not what he seems." So, that's that, I guess.
It sounds like a typical western, but it's really not. It's pretty much the only western I've ever seen where men fall into the background, and women are the main focus. There are a ton of male characters in the film, but none of them really matter. Even the relationships between Vienna and the Dancin' Kid and Johnny Guitar don't really matter. As Ebert points out, it's pretty obvious that there is some sort of, as they would say on Jersey Shore, "lesbionics" between Emma and Vienna. The sexual tension between them is really blatant - I wonder if anyone really picked up on it when the film was released. They seem so disinterested in the men around them, and even when talking about the men they claim they are in love with, they look only at each other. It's interesting. It doesn't make the movie great to watch, but it certainly made it a great movie, just because I've never, ever seen a western so focused on women before, and that's very cool and unique.
I don't really know about anything else, though. I had an old VHS copy of this, and the quality was really bad. The color looked washed out and the details were fuzzy. It was frustrating, but the only copy I could really find and afford was a used library copy, so it's pretty beat up. If the movie ever looked good, had snappy color, or cool scenery, I wouldn't know it. I guess I'm bringing this up because I was sort of confused by the actual plot and didn't really care for it, and I didn't really get to see if any other part of the film was masterful, which I guess helps to explain my lack of enthusiasm about the whole thing.
I liked the parts that focused on the tension between Emma and Vienna, because it was so different and interesting, and I like that it wasn't another western just focused on men doin' man things. Other than that, I don't know what to say! It was an interesting movie, maybe even a good one. Maybe great in it's new ideas and focus. Was it great for me to watch? Not really. Is it great? Possibly. I think it's interesting to check out if you want something different, but it's very strange. I'm still not sure what to make of it.
Have any thoughts on Johnny Guitar? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Johnny Guitar
Buy it on Amazon