Screengrab Archives #7: Snowpocalypse Edition

In honor of the latest East Coast blizzard, here are three write-ups from Nerve’s late, great Screengrab blog about cinema’s greatest snow globe, McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

Hayden Childs on why McCabe & Mrs. Miller is one of the Best Films Ever:

Robert Altman’s take on the Western is as upside-down as Sam Peckinpah’s.  Where The Wild Bunch is epic and bloody, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is about being small and transient in the great landscape of the West.  As big as John McCabe’s dreams are, they’re only in his head.  All the poetry in his soul doesn’t mean anything in this tiny community grasping at civilization.  His final stand, his big gunbattle, is as unimportant to the town of Presbyterian Church as Icarus plunging into the sea in Pieter Brueghal’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.  W.H. Auden wrote of this painting in his poem Musee des Beaux Arts

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

In Presbyterian Church, the burning of the unfinished titular church takes precedence over McCabe’s last stand.  And there’s always something else happening when humanity takes its last stand.  Where Peckinpah mixed the myth with realism, Robert Altman always preferred the real.

Scott Von Doviak on two great snowy cinematic deaths:  Warren Beatty in McCabe and Jack Nicholson in The Shining:

Beatty and Nicholson have been linked in the public mind for pretty much their entire careers.  They’re longtime neighbors on Mulholland Drive, they’ve co-starred in The Fortune and Reds, and throughout the ’70s and ’80s, they shared a similar rep as Hollywood bad boys and incurable ladies’ men.  They also tend to die at the end of their movies, so it’s probably not too surprising that, at some point, they would each find themselves frozen in snow as the final credits roll.  As our own Hayden Childs put it last week in our countdown of Best Movies Ever, McCabe’s “final stand, his big gun battle, is as unimportant to the town of Presbyterian Church as Icarus plunging into the sea in Pieter Brueghal’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”  In The Shining, Nicholson dies as a howling monster, a wounded minotaur loose in the maze, but whereas McCabe may be instantly forgotten, Jack Torrance has always been and will always be the caretaker.

Hayden Childs on McCabe and Mrs. Miller as one of cinema’s great doomed screen couples:

He’s got poetry in him.  If only she could see it.  But, of course, she can’t.  Or won’t. Or maybe it’s not there in the first place.  I think it is, though.  Only a hopeless romantic could look at a town as hardscrabble and bitter as Presbyterian Church and see a promising future.  Only a hopeless romantic could entertain thoughts of love with the shrewd and removed (and, yes, beautiful) Constance Miller.  She loves only two things: money and opium.  And those will have her full attention at his time of greatest need.  But there’s moments well before that time where you can see the nascent feelings between them, and you can believe in those feelings.  When you see the way the camera captures them, you know that it, at least, believes in their love, even when they can’t even accept the possibility.  Unfortunately, the Wild West was no place for love, despite what the movies have told you.  Without laws, community, or the sure knowledge that you would live until tomorrow, the frontier was not a place to put your trust or life in the hands of a fellow human being.  It was certainly not a place to put stock in the poetry in your soul


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