My Photo

Welcome to Mannionville

  • Politics, art, movies, television, books, parenting, home repair, caffeine addiction---you name it, we blog it. Since 2004. Call for free estimate.

The Tip Jar

  • Please help keep this blog running strong with your donation

Help Save the Post Office: My snail mail address

  • Lance Mannion
    109 Third St.
    Wallkill, NY 12589

Save a Blogger From Begging...Buy Stuff

The one, the only

Sister Site

« Bobby and Matt | Main | An insomniacs aubade »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Michael Bartley

He (they) may be a device but essential don't you think? The contrast between white and indian (as types maybe more than real people) seems to be at the heart of things.


Wow. Apparently PBS has the whole episode online! I love the internet!


Shoot. Apparently nothing in my intro is an original thought. Anybody who watches the AE show will think I ripped it all off!


Definitely essential. They're good character. And it's crushing when Halsey turns up at the end playing "Sitting Bull."

Michael Bartley

It was a solid episode. They also had one on Kit Carson (after Hampton Sides book) that I thought was better. Also, I thought We Shall Remain by Native American filmakers, etc. was excellent you should see the series if you haven't already.
Okay, well I'm done in. Thanks Lance maybe we will carry this on another time.
Finally, your work here is excellent. I really appreciate your talent as a writer and thinker. This site is special.

Michael Bartley

...and original thinking is one of your strengths.


Michael, thanks. And thanks for chipping in here. I hope you feel better. (PS. I like the Sides book on Carson.)

Phil Nugent

I was really excited when Lance announced he was doing these Altman discussions, and then I wound up not saying anything during the early ones, because I love the bejesus out of "California Split" and "Thieves Like Us", and it turns out that I've been babbling about how much I love them that I'm all talked out about them. But I could talk about this one till the cows come home, because I've never liked it much, and (unliked some other Altman movies that I was sort of indifferent to from the first time I heard about them, like "A Perfect Couple"), I always really wanted to like it, and I'm still trying to work out why I don't.

Lance (great essay, Lance!) nails the core reason why I have a problem with it when he writes that Altman never draws you in. I can't imagine that this was deliberate, though. Altman was a showman who, coming straight from "Nashville", enjoyed dazzling you with how many balls he could keep in the air, and he probably could have easily identified with Buffalo Bill if he hadn't apparently decided that the old boy was in need of debunking. (I'm not sure how much Paul Newman identified with him, either. I was watching "Hud" the other night, and admiring how gracefully he could play a braggart and a bastard. Here, he's ineffectual, and that might be okay if he didn't wear it on his sleeve. Newman was a guy who, because of his looks and charm, never had to raise his voice to stand out in a crowd. The role might have been better entrusted to an actor who knew what it felt like to have to fight a little for the world's attention.)

It's a strange movie, because it has so many people rolling around in it, but so much of the time they seem to be there to help carry the ideas that not many of them get the chance to turn into characters. (For me, the big exceptions are Geraldine Chaplin and John Considine, two actors whose careers were closely bound up with Altman and other filmmakers he had a hand in getting started as directors.) At one point, E. L. Doctorow, uncredited and looking insanely pleased with himself, turns up in what amounts to a sea of cameos. He was hanging around because Altman was going to make "Ragtime" next, and he and Altman were working on the script together, and I guess Altman decided that he might as well put him to work. But his presence might make you realize how much better the movie's flat, stylized tone might have worked with Doctorow's material, and make you wonder if Altman was looking forward to his next project while he was supposed to be focused on this one. In any case, it turned out that his next project wasn't "Ragtime" after all, because after the commercial wipeout of "Buffalo Bill", the producer, Dino ("When the monkey die, everybody cry.") de Laurentiis wanted nothing more to do with him.

One thing I remember being surprised by the first time I saw the movie: the Wild West show doesn't go anyplace. I don't know as much about the actual Buffalo Bill as Lance does, but I imagined that, in a movie that spans a fair amount of time, they'd pack up and barnstorm across the country and play to different audiences in different parts of the country, and that the mechanics of that would be something to see. But they just spend the whole movie planted on the same patch of terrain, and I think that sense of stasis adds to the lack of a feeling of life going on, the feeling that we're seeing a bunch of conceits glued together. There are times when the movie reminds me of one of those ghost stories about departed spirits who are doomed to spend eternity tied to the same place, acting out the same rituals over and over. Maybe that's part of the point, but it adds to the feeling that you're watching a movie made by an energy vampire.

The static set-up also makes it feel as if you're watching a play, which is ironic, considering that Altman treated Kopit's play with the kind of lofty disregard that he'd gotten in the habit of treating screenplays that didn't go where he wanted them to. I think the next couple of movies up are from his filmed-theater period in the '80s, when he was recording plays and taking pride in not changing a word of the written texts. That ought to make for an interesting comparison.

Michael Bartley

Just stopped by for a last comment and read Phil's. So, while he waits for Lance, I'll just say that while I love the movie and find Altman's work fascinating, Cody's life is so big that another artist could find many trails to explore. For example, Phil's point about stasis, The Wild West did travel all over the USA and enjoyed extended wildly popular runs all over Europe including a performance for Queen Victoria. The show also, though an unofficial participant, became the most popular event at the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition. I think a filmmaker could have an interesting time contrasting the visuals of the "old west" in the performance with the grit and complexity of the urban world. They had great success in NYC for example and the contrasts, the wide open west performed in the turn of the century city, the throngs of immigrants in the stands (which suddenly makes me think of the Seinfeld line about why would an immigrant leave a land filled with ponies), all would be entertaining and powerful.
Also, I think that static performance, intentional or not, ends up reflecting the problem Cody had with the transition to the new medium of film. He failed because from his earliest performances on small stages to his Congress of the Roughriders massive shows, they were all performed at a distance. The stage shows were particularly stilted, mostly standing around telling stories. The arena show were bigger and more wonderous than any circus. Yet, all of them were seen from the perspective of the stage. Cody never understood the close-up, the small moment of film. Apparently, that is why his one film was a failure. I would be very interested in yours, Lance's, and Bill Rennie's thoughts on this aspect of storytelling.

Michael Bartley

Finally, I meant to discuss this last night but, Bill suggested spirits and...
Two points. One, I always love the fact that Altman in his westerns maintains his frantic pace in dialogue and human movement, I think here especially of Beatty's crackling rush's up and down the streets in Mcabe, in contrast to the westerns typicaly laconic nature. In this film it is particularly strong when you put the nearly mute Sitting Bull in the room with the manic energy of the wild west perfomers, publicist, and manager.
Two, I love the look of the film. The antique sepia quality works perfect for this film. I would be interested in everyone's thoughts on the visual style of Altman. I think both Mcabe and Buffalo Bill are visually stunning films up there with the very best of western (the genre)film.

Phil Nugent

It is a great-looking movie. Sometimes, though, I catch myself thinking that "McCabe" might be the best-looking movie ever made.

You know, the look of "McCabe" was achieved partly through "flashing" the film (i.e., exposing it after it had been shot), and because they were so sure that it would work out the way they hoped it would, and because they were afraid that the studio wouldn't release their version if they had any choice about it, Altman gave the cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, the go-ahead the flash the negative, without making a back-up copy. To go by his comments in the oral bio, Warren Beatty, whose last words are probably going to be "I'm glad I made 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller', really!" still hasn't gotten over his shock at this, and I can see his point, but it's kind of awe-inspiring that Altman and Zsigmond decided that they'd rather risk turning the whole shoot into a snow vacation than give anyone else the power to assemble a version of the movie substantially different from the one they had in their heads. Reminds me of something Gordon Willis once said about working on "The Godfather", that his attitude was to plan and be careful and allow for mistakes, and Coppola's attitude was more like, "I'll set my clothes on fire, and if I can make it to the other side of the room, it'll be spectacular!"


Never seen this until tonight. A few thoughts:
1.I don't know the history of this film, but it felt like something was missing,as though the studio or Dino De Laurentiis edited it to death.

2.During the scene where the Indian is given a flag("enemies in 1875,friends in 1886" or what ever he said),my wife pointed out how that's not very different from the recent Olympics' Open Ceremony,featuring dancers from the First Nations. Just drives home how much influence still has today.

3.The only real eye-rolling moment I had was Ed Goodman's (Keitel) line about how there's "no business like show business". It's an obvious reference to 'Annie Get Your Gun'(also about the Wild West show), a little too cutsy, Altman should be better than that.

mac macgillicuddy

This has nothing to do with Robert Altman or the movie. But I also remember going to Story Town and visiting Ghost Town. I'm not sure if either is still going, but I do think that some time between then and now, Story Town got bigger and changed its name to The Great Escape, or something like that.

Anyway, two things I remember clearly about Story Town. You could see it sprawling along the mountainside from I-87 North (aka the Northway) and that site always, always, made you want to get off at the exit and go there. And (2), I can see the bank robber in my mind's eye dropping from the roof as if it were yesterday. I also remember the horse pulling the bars out of the jail window.

Now, THAT was the wild west!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Data Analysis

  • Data Analysis


April 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

Movies, Music, Books, Kindles, and more

For All Your Laundry Needs

In Case of Typepad Emergency Break Glass

Be Smart, Buy Books

Blog powered by Typepad