Monday, November 8, 2010

Links: El Dorado

Back on its premiere in 1967, a young critic named Roger Ebert raved about El Dorado:

"For people who like well-made, entertaining movies with suspense, violence, horses, colorful characters, lots of shooting and a few pretty girls, El Dorado is about the most entertaining Western to turn up this year."

Ebert also threw in a nice dig at Pauline Kael, not yet the critic for the New Yorker, but well on her way to being every auteurist's favorite villain:

"Pauline Kael, the New Republic's film critic, claims El Dorado has the second worst lighting she's seen in a movie. That's not bad lighting, that's good old Howard Hawks with all of his shadows and kerosene lamps and murky atmosphere and dark alleys (remember The Big Sleep?). Miss Kael needs her glasses scrubbed."

And speaking of auteurists, Michael Grost devotes his website to cataloguing in exacting detail the recurring subjects, images, characters and visual styles of various directors' films in an effort to generate evidence for the uniqueness of each filmmaker.  With a director like Hawks, who's recurring plots, characters and dialogue style are easily noticed, but who's visual stylization is less obvious, this can be an invaluable resource.

"The ride through the desert features three long take lateral tracks. These are the biggest and longest camera movements in El Dorado. They recall a bit the lateral camera movements in other Hawks, which show "characters walking through architecture". Only here, the characters are riding horses, and more importantly, what is being revealed in the background is not an architectural set, but an outdoors ecosystem. Just as Hawks always shows his sets in beautiful clear detail in his typical camera movements, here in in El Dorado we see every detail of the plants."

The thing everyone knows about El Dorado, though, is that it's a remake of Rio Bravo (which is of course why it fits in this series).  At Only the Cinema, Ed Howard traces the complex relationship of this film to its original, along with Hawks's third version of the same basic story, Rio Lobo.

"Ultimately, what's great about El Dorado is how Hawks and his cast take what should have been an utter throwaway project, a shameless retread of a relatively recent film, and turn it into something special of its own. It's a roughshod film, casually skipping over long periods of time with inexplicable edits . . . . Somehow, though, these elliptical narrative shenanigans only add to the film's indelible charm. This is especially apparent in the ending. . . redacted for spoilerism . . . it's absurd, strangely touching, and funny all at once, just like the film as a whole."

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