Friday, July 01, 2005

DVD: Junior Bonner (1972)

Mmmm ... crow ...

A while back, there was a dust-up around here when I confessed that I didn’t get Steve McQueen. I tended to agree with the critic David Thomson, who wrote that McQueen’s “range was severely limited” and that he “did too much routine work in which his ... impassivity grew monotonous.”

Several McQueen fans rose to his defense. The recent revival of his films on DVD has prompted reappraisals, so I decided to join in.

BONNER seemed a good place to start. It has a director in Sam Peckinpah who knows how to harness machismo. (He and McQueen also collaborated on 1972’s THE GETAWAY, but the strange vibe between the actor and Ali MacGraw taints that movie for me. Let’s face it, McQueen’s not good with women onscreen.) It’s a contemporary western in which McQueen plays an aging rodeo rider, another plus because McQueen is at his best when doing something physical. Best of all, his parents are played by Ida Lupino and the great Robert Preston.

It’s one of those ‘70s movies in which little happens, but what does is beautifully observed. It unfolds over a few days in a small town, and by the movie’s end I was sure I could draw a map of the place from memory.

In this setting, McQueen’s minimalism doesn’t seem like a harsh affectation but an essential part of the character. And he’s gracious with his costars, hanging back in his scenes with Joe Don Baker as his ambitious brother, letting Preston walk off with the movie.

I’m not going to go overboard and say that I get McQueen now. But I’m beginning to understand Thomson’s point when he asks: “He may be brutal, or brutish, at times – but when is he fake?”

Miscellaneous: Links

I was going to write a post about my perverse fascination with the HBO/Lisa Kudrow misfire THE COMEBACK. Then I found this chart. And who took the sex out of popular music? Via Arts & Letters Daily.