BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE SHOOTING

By • Oct 24th, 2000 •

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(VCI Home Video) 1966
82 mins / Color / Dolby Digital / Widscreen, and enhanced for 16X9 monitors screens

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If Michaelangelo Antonioni had done a western, it would have been The Shooting. Its edgy narrative is filled with the same angst and emptiness, the same characters talking to each other but not looking at those they’re talking to, etc., that stlistically characterize the Italian filmmakers work. Director Monte Hellman even mentions the similarities on the commentary track, and co-commentator/actress Millie Perkins adds, ‘And Antonioni did do a western and it wasn’t as good as this one.” I’m not sure which film she was referring to.

The Shooting had an odd history, which kept it from being widely seen, but conversely grew it a cult following. Producer Roger Corman was concerned about the film’s ambiguity and insisted on having things explained, or at least setting them up. Hellman obliged him, and there are three references to the memorably bizarre ending in the first act, but they don’t do the trick. Perkins says she never understood what the film was about. Hellman says people used to call him up at 4:00 in the morning begging for an explanation. He sidesteps a clear explanation by maintaining that one can understand the ending by paying attention to the film. My feeling is that he’s right – the revelation at the end is actually a minor one, but the step-printed shots at this point, uncharacteristic of the film, make one feel that the ‘reveal’ is more shocking and important than it actually is. Simple as that. When in reality it is the film itself which is impenetrably designed, written to be perceived as eerie and mysterious, setting up the audience in the same way that Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner did, toying with viewers’ hopeful expectations that all will be revealed, and then dealing them an even more ambiguous ending that obstinately refuses to enlighten.

The film’s budget was $75,000., the smallest one Hellman had been given for a color film. And the wranglers/teamsters got over 10% of that figure. The crew was comrised of seven people, like George Romero’s Martin (on DVD from Anchor Bay). Shooting started on April 18th, 1965, the day 8 1/2 opened. The finished film played for a year in Paris, where renegade American experiments are better appreciated than they are on our own turf.

The cast is small: four actors, all acquitting themselves admirably, the standout being Warren Oates, who is remarkable in a demanding, largely interior performance. I’m beginning to think I’m in a vast minority about one of Hellman’s other films with Oates – Two Lane Blacktop (Anchor Bay). I can’t stand the film, and I think Oates seems lost in it. But I’ve read critics recently, in the wake of its DVD release, who praise his performance as one of the best of its era and certainly his best. Well, either they’re wrong or I am. Others in the cast are commentary track guest Millie Perkins, whose career has been spotty, but can claim this and The Diary of Anne Frank to her credit. Cutely, she admits on the DVD to having had a romantic tryst with Oates – something Hellman asks her point blank, which he had long suspected but never been sure of – though she refuses to say when. And she points out that Jack Nicholson picked out her hat. Nicholson is confident in the smallest role, as a cool, trigger-happy gunman. Will Hutchins is the most problematic of the four, playing a gangly doofus who doesn’t seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation as it unfolds, but his arc is rewarding.

I had a full frame 16mm print of The Shooting for many years which looked correct considering the obviously threadbare budget. This DVD is in standard widescreen and looks better. The materials have been well cared for, or at least haven’t deteriorated.

This would be part of a great double-bill with any straight-up western for contrast, or perhaps you could go the existential route and pair it with an Antonioni film. Criterion just released L’Avventura in a succulent, newly polished print. The comparisons would make for an amusing evening; The Shooting could be seen almost as a parody of the former film, much as Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen was parodying an earlier, more ambitious Carmen (both on the same image Entertainment DVD) by Cecil B.DeMille, and ended up being just as important in its own right.

Incidently, VCI has released another Hellman no-budget western, a companion piece to The Shooting shot at the same time, Ride in the Whirlwind. Lightning didn’t stike twice. This is the enduring one of the two.


DVD Features:
Audio commentary with Monte Hellman, Millie Perkins, and American Cinemateque curator Dennis Bartok. Photo Gallery and bios.


Credits:
Directed by Monte Hellman,
Screenplay by Carole Eastman,
Produced by Jack Nicholson and Monte Hellman,
Music by Richard Markowitz,
Cinematography by Gergory Sandor.

Cast:
Warren Oates, Millie Perkins, Will Hutchins and Jack Nicholson.

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