"Name Your Poison"
- Tagline for the film "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971)
In 1902, gambler, gunfighter (at least that's the rumor) and dreamer John McCabe (Warren Beatty) becomes business partners with an opium addicted British lady named Constance Miller (Julie Christie) to run a place of gambling, a high class brothel and bathhouse in a sleepy town in Washington State called Presbyterian Church. When the business becomes a booming success, a large mining conglomerate wants to buy out the business duo, but being the gambler that McCabe is, he's refusing to sell the business interest to these people, even as the offer increases. But the people over this conglomerate don't take no for an answer, and as McCabe overplays his hand and learns, it will cost him his life
Released this week in 1971, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is called an Anti-Western because it doesn't follow standard Western conventions in story, character and mise en scene. It is also a subtextual look at the sociopolitical times this film was made in (late 60's, early 70's), where people with big dreams, ideas who want change in a new way of doing things, clashing with the Established order, who like things the way they are, and will do anything possible to shut down or permanently silence anyone from the other side. Set to the hauntingly wistful songs of Leonard Cohen and the use of slow zooms, tracking shots and multi-track sound (A staple of Altman's work) the film is gorgeously shot by Vilmos Zsigmond who pre-exposed the film stock in a process called flashing before shooting, giving the final result a distinctively hazy, yet dreamy look - Especially effective in the films' climax, a seriocomic cat and mouse gun battle during a snowstorm, and the final image which has a psychedelic quality to it - A slow zoom towards and into the iris of Mrs. Miller as she lays high on opium,
knowing the fate of her business partner/lover. This film is perfect on every level of its two hour running time (story, acting, visuals) as it's not only my favorite Robert Altman film, it's one of my favorite films in general, and essential viewing for anyone who loves movies. Free enterprise in an opium dream