Thursday, March 19, 2009

It Ain't Over Till the Spirit Horse Comes...

Young Guns II

That is a really good movie. I always used to watch it when it was on years ago. Last week I picked it up again from the library. I dig the way they worked the "Brushy" Bill Roberts story into it... There's a lot of artistic license taken with actual events, though plenty of real ones are in it... The cinematography is beautiful (though it was filmed in Bisbee, AZ, and not Lincoln county, NM), and the film's score (not the dumb Jon Bon Jovi songs some idiot allowed on the soundtrack) is haunting.

All the acting is, of course, great... Any movie where Kiefer Sutherland and Christian Slater get to wear dark clothes and run around with guns killing people is going to be good no matter what, and Emilio Estevez is of course a fantastic, good humored, giggling psychopath.

The first movie was interesting and enjoyable, but I feel in the second the characters came alive and developed a lot more. The theme of "the idea of billy the kid", being this sort of impossible American icon that America itself is having to kill off to "develop" , is rather deeply explored. Despite the presence of "East Coast Tenderfoots", such as the depicted residents of White Oaks (today a fascinating ghost town), the growth of cities, and stability minded politicians who along with barbed wire and the industrial age sort of doomed the "wild" west to extinction; Americans then and since have nonetheless insisted on romanticizing the age of the gunslinger.

Rather than simply a "factual" account of events in Mr. Bonney's life after the Lincoln County War, the deaths of Billy and his gang (In real life the characters of Jose Chavez Y Chavez and "Doc" lived to old age and passed away in the 1920s), along with the insertion of the Brushy Bill story, and the character of a young boy from the East Coast so fascinated with the reported exploits of Billy that he decides to join his gang (and die with it), play into our romanticization of and identification with those years. At the same time that we enjoy electricity, fresh beef at the grocery store, interstates, and indoor plumbing; as confined, modern men, we are fettered as well by these very things, and in moments long for the days gone by, when life was harder, but (at least in our imaginations), far richer.

In this world of credit reports, telecommunications, dull jobs, daily commutes, pesky landlords, employers, and whatever else it is that nags at us, we need legends, like The Violent West, to escape into. Whether or not Brushy Bill Roberts really was Billy the Kid (there is evidence for both sides of the argument) is not so important as the fact that we want him to be. Just before his death in 1950, when Brushy Bill sought out legal assistance to confront the Governor of New Mexico with a plea for amnesty, the actual lawyer drove to his house in Hico, Texas, to talk to him about it. Had that been portrayed accurately in the film, it wouldn't have been too exciting. The film's actual opening and closing, of Brushy Bill wandering out of the desert, on a horse, with dusty revolver still in its gun belt, plays into the sort of myths so many of us want to believe in, that somewhere out there, far enough off the road, beyond those dunes in the desert mountains, these American legends, of freedom, romance, excitement, and violence, might still exist, waiting for us to find them...

As a final note the writing in this movie is great as well. So many great analogies and sound bites ("You can go to Hell, Hell, Hell!") come out of it. The story about the three Chinese players ("I will finish the game"), or what the "Mexican Blackbird" symbolized in the context of Billy's desire to continue a romantic, but impossible, lifestyle, are really quite deep and philosophical in a way that few Westerns, ever, have been able to match.

I probably first saw this just a few years after it's 1990 release. It's just as interesting, and emotionally gripping, today as it was back then. Check it out at your local library today!

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