Deep Breaths and Robert Mitchum

Well, it has been awhile.

I spent the rest of December and much of January thinkin’. I haven’t come to any conclusions. The older I get, the less concluding I am able to do.

In my Rain Man defense mechanism fashion, I made another movie list and am pile-driving my way through it. And this one is intense: Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Alternative Top 100 (His answer to the AFI), Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Essential 100, The British Film Institute’s Top 100, and Entertainment Weekly’s Top 100. Did I say I wasn’t going to do that? Yes, I did. Oh well. I have a list-finishing compulsion. Anyhoo. Entertainment Weekly’s Top 100 was the first Movie Top 100 I ever came into contact with. And I’ve always suspected it is a fairly respectable list. And in order to assert that, I should probably watch what they recommend. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s snooty, catty and holier than thou style reveals a surprising Alternative. Meet me in St Louis? That’s Entertainment III? It’s kind of bizarre, to say the least. So I dove in. The British Film Institute is a Anglo-centric less epic and more cerebral list. Sometimes. Withnail and I isn’t cerebral…well, unless you count the line, “I feel like a pig shat in my head.” That’s cerebral. Literally.

Last night’s selection was Track of the Cat starring Robert Mitchum. Being born in 1981, I always had this unquestioned belief that American Beauty invented filmic family dysfunction. When that movie came out, didn’t it feel like Sam Mendes had pulled back the curtain? I guess he did, in a way. There was something about American Beauty that felt landmark. And perhaps it was. But dysfunction has been around since Thyestes served Atreus his sons on a plate.

Track of the Cat serves up dysfunction wrapped in a Western. In Panavision no less. Interestingly, while filmed in the color saturation of the day, he director and designers went with a fantastically limited color palette, nearly black and white. Except for Mitchum’s red red coat, and a certain fiance’s golden blouse. I adore limited color palettes. It is such a subtle and yet immediately visible choice and message. (Films I recommend that use limited palette include Titus and White Christmas.)

Track of the Cat indeed does track a cat, but that’s not what the movie is about. In fact, I think I said outloud, “Heeeyy, that’s not what this movie is about.”

In my search for seasonal flicks, you couldn’t winter one better than this one. The snows of the high sierras whirl around this movie and make it feel epic and wild and at the same time clausterphobic. This family hates each other, and there’s nowhere to go.

Did I love Track of the Cat? No. The characters are frustrating. The mountains inescapable. And they are trying to kill a wild cat, which, while metaphorical, rips at the heart permanently plastered on my sleeve. But it is a film that is more than the sum of its parts. And I recommend it. Plus, it has Robert Mitchum, who is fast-tracking it to the top of my Best Actors list. Between Cape Fear and Night of the Hunter, he can be scary and intimidating in my living room any ol’ time.

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