Guest review by Kevyn Knox of The Cinematheque
Directed by Nicholas Ray
“There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.” – Jean-Luc Godard
Johnny Guitar is one of those films one must not take too seriously. Now don’t get me wrong, the film is indeed a great work of cinematic art (possibly director Nick Ray’s best work) and its classically gorgeous look and progressive visual style make it a wonder to behold, but its over-the-top giddiness and the way it verges on camp (especially in the dialogue and performances) make the film something altogether different. Something almost dreamlike—almost as if you are not watching a movie so much as hallucinating what you might think a movie could or should be.
Johnny Guitar, the film that Truffaut once called “Hallucinatory Cinema,” is almost magical in its approach to what film is and still should be. This strange characteristic turns this redefined western into almost an experimental work of art. Something that defines not what the western genre is, nor even what it could be, but what it might be if torn asunder and flipped onto its proverbial backside. Something one could see Quentin Tarantino attempting today, but made instead back in the mid-fifties when life was staid and suburban and everyone was just crazy about Ike.
Derek Malcolm of The Guardian said of the film, “This baroque and deliriously stylised Western, along with Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious and Raoul Walsh’s Pursued, proves it is possible to lift the genre into the realms of Freudian analysis, political polemic and even Greek tragedy.” Amen brother.
Other westerns of the time delve deeper than the typical genre-specific Hop-a-long Cassidy territory of the earlier mode—The Searchers is a Freudian masterpiece for sure and the films of Anthony Mann (and to a lesser degree Budd Boetticher) have stretched the ideas of right and wrong to Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)