Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #52 The Shooting  ★★★½
Despite featuring Hollywood stars like Warren Oates and Jack Nicholson, The Shooting is defiant in its rejection of what audiences usually expect from Westerns. For one, it looks unlike most Westerns of its era: financed by Roger Corman, the film was shot for pocket change in less than three weeks with only natural lighting. In a way, its visual ruggedness predicted the washed out, rustic look of much of New Hollywood.
But most importantly, The Shooting is unique for its bizarre narrative. It focuses on two bounty hunters, the stoic Willet Gashade (Oates) and his paranoid friend Coley (Will Hutchins), who find themselves escorting a mysterious unnamed woman (Millie Perkins) across a nondescript wilderness after their mutual partner was murdered by an unseen assailant. They’re eventually joined by an unstable gunslinger named Billy Spear (Nicholson) that the woman insists on hiring as protection despite—or possibly because of—his obvious insanity.
In many ways it feels like a Western by way of Alain Resnais (and no, I didn’t cop that comparison from Jonathan Rosenbaum thankyouverymuch), particularly in how it features characters pushed and pulled in strange environments by forces beyond their comprehension. It’s easy to sense echoes here of the dreamlike, fragmented reality of Last Year at Marienbad (1961). But also like that film, it’s easy to dismiss the deliberately obfuscated characters and inexplicable plot as arthouse pretentiousness. One’s mileage depends on one’s patience for postmodernism.