Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cinema del Sol

I'm not sure where I read it recently--maybe the New York Times (suddenly I realize that I have to start being specific about that. I alwyas used to just say the Times, but now I read The Times of London more often than I read the Times of New York; I've never given much thought to the LA Times unless I was actually in LA) a piece of film criticism that suggested that noir has been replaced by something called "cinema del sol." The idea was that noir was a genre suited to black and white, but in color the same type of opressive mise en scene can be evoked through bright sunlight. This is why so many very noir-ish films are now set in the desert. Think about all the movies with broken-down cynical heroes you know of that have been set in Arizona or Texas. *Lone Star* for instance. For that matter count portions of *Kill Bill.* A lot of those old Jan Michael Vincent and Kris Kristopherson movies would count too. Even *Pulp Fiction*, very little of which takes place at night, has a love affair going with that warm California sun. I guess there have been a lot of movies that qualify for this type of styalistic lable, certainly going back as far as *The Getaway.* My take on what they do is that they combine characteristics of the cowboy movie--wide open desert spaces, a blazing hot sun, a gun fight--with charactieristics of noir--sad sack heroes, cynical world view, pointless violence. There is a lot of Western imagery in Cinema del Sol, but none of the western heroism, and none of the classic Western conflict between the wild spaces and encroaching civilization which can only be mediated by the cowboy: civilization in Cinema del Sol is even more terrible than the wilderness, more bloody, more violent, more unforgiving.

If this is all true we've got Sam Pekinpah to thank for it. Pekinpah destroyed the Western myth once and for all with *The Wild Bunch," and then heralded the arival of Cinema del Sol with *Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia*. I'm thinking about this because I just caught the last 45 minutes of *Bring me the Head of alfredo Garcia* last night--for the first time believe it or not. My parrent's wouldn't let me watch it in '74 and, let's face it, it wasn't going to make it onto TV back then. Pekinpah is yet another entry on the long list of post-code reasons why conservative hate Hollywood--and he's another reason why the 70s, freed from the restrictions of the production code, was Holywood's second golden age. He pushed the boundries of taste in directions that created powerful, frightening images, no longer even reflections of everyday life but nightmarish visions of the depths to which men can sink to. And he did this because he had the freedom to express himself.

Of course Pekinpah's liberated violence, like the liberated sex of other directors, is why conservaties like Joe Scarbvorough now lable Hollywood a "secular cesspool." They think Hollywood shouldn't be allowed to peddle such filth.

And once again we find that faith and freedom are incompatible.


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