Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Revisiting "The Deer Hunter"

It had been about a year and a half since I actually sat down and watched Michael Cimino's grand masterpiece, "The Deer Hunter."  I've only seen it in its entirety maybe 4 times over the years, and each time I see it I constantly remember the first night I sat glued to the screen until about 2 AM, and then felt so unbelievably sad and distraught.  I still can only half-watch the more violent parts of the film.

I actually don't have many words to actually write about the film.  It sucks adjectives out of me.  I notice more and more how even its structure is, as it's really 3 movies stapled together: life before Vietnam, life during Vietnam, life after Vietnam.  How these three acts relate to each other and echo each other creates the real tensions within the film.  I was reminded of how beautiful Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is, not only in the wilderness but also in the intimate framing of De Niro or Walken's close up.

"Overpowering" is probably the best adjective for it.  31 years after its original release, and probably 5 or 6 years since I first watched it, I still feel an unbearably personal attachment to it as a story and as an artistic accomplishment that makes it hard to put it into words.  So why bother blogging about the movie at all if I have nothing to say?  Probably because having spent so much time away from it, I thought maybe I would come up with something profound in its craft that would help me understand why it's forged such a connection with me and why I still place it towards the top of my greatest films ever list (it's currently at 36).

I didn't. I did find shot after shot of stunning composition, a direction that was surprisingly laid back and passive, performances that emerged from the emotional core of all involved, and a portrait of small town America and its inhabitants that rings with such poetic simplicity.  That it is drawn in such broad strokes is part of its staying power, its ability to captivate and engage for over 3 hours while never being extremely melodramatic.  It's a pity Michael Cimino couldn't continue to make fantastic films, I would have loved to see more dramas from him.

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