Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
As vivid and haunting as the songs of Leonard Cohen that found an audience on its soundtrack, Robert Altman’s indelible vision of two of the Wild West’s most beautiful losers is restored to the giant screen. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie play an enterprising gambler and a cynical bordello madam, separate newcomers whose reputations have preceded them to the raw Pacific Northwest mining town of Presbyterian Church. Channelling attraction into a business proposition, they join forces to provide the miners with a superior whorehouse experience. The arrival of representatives of a mining company with interests of its own threatens their plans. (Deadwood fans will recognise the debt acknowledged by David Milch.) On its release critic Andrew Sarris called it a ‘half-baked masterpiece’. Forty-five years later, the apparent offhandedness of Altman’s attention to story and dialogue feels integral to his evocation of elusive dreams and frail individual enterprises. The town, rising so randomly amongst the conifers, is said to have been built by a crew of US draft dodgers in British Columbia and the film was shot, unforgettably, in rain and snow by the late, great Vilmos Zsigmond.
“Robert Altman’s warmest, most lyrical masterwork doesn’t so much scrape the mythology off the Western as invent a folkloric form of its own, where squalid grain harmonizes with burnished oil-lantern sepia and the howling wind outside sounds a lot like Leonard Cohen… A vision at once roughhewn and delicate, Altman’s cynicism and his romanticism in perfect balance, a ballad and a dirge.” — Fernando F. Croce, Cine Passion