A Long Song

I had a little solitary telly time the other day, so I put on the Coen Brother’s remake of True Grit on Netflix. I watched an hour or so of it and enjoyed it greatly. A day later, I came back and caught some more. 

I’m just at the ‘Fill your hands, you son-of-a-bitch’ scene so I’ll probably slide back and finish it sometime today. Sometime when it’s quiet in the living room.


Hardly earth-shattering, Ken. Hardly the subject for a Sunday post, even on a blog like this, where navel-gazing has been the order of the day for years now.

Well, okay, there is one little twist to the tale I suppose. It’s not a massive one so don’t get your pants in a knot or anything.  Here it is…

This is third time I’ve watched the movie since lockdown began. I would also have watched it five or six other times when it appeared on telly or when I first saw it on DVD when it came out.

It’s true that I have a great affection for the movie. I’ve been a fan of the Coens since I first saw Blood Simple in one of the smaller screens in the (then) Warner West End in Leicester Square in 1984. I remember the buzz of seeing a first trailer for True Grit online about ten years ago. It seemed like a fine fit; the excellent source material, the creative team, and the inimitable Jeff Bridges. I didn’t see it in the movies for some reason. Okay, I know the reason. I had stopped going to movies for myself by that time and only really went when the boys wanted to see something.

I love most everything about it. If I wanted to try to give you a foothold into it, I would say the opening two minutes and thirty seconds are some of the most beautiful and eye-catching ones I can remember seeing. The juxtaposition of the opening lines from the novel with the dead father in the snow. Mattie’s arrival in the town, where the railway tracks run out. And, through it all, the elegiac score by Carter Burwell. Roger Deakin’s vision makes it the most extraordinary film to look at. Images and scenes burn into your brain.

There’s a moment in the courthouse scene where Rooster makes a smart reply to a question, “I always go backwards when I'm backin' up” and then, magically, he quietly applauds himself by tapping the arm of his chair with the palm of his hand. My Dad used to do that, a tiny gesture of appreciation whenever his own humour struck home with himself. It’s a personal connection to the film.

But if I were to single out one thing (and it would not be an easy task) I would point to the heightened language used in the film. The quirky, slightly formal language of the novel (and, presumably of the time), honed and perfected by the Coens, is lapped up by the actors who bring such grace and poise to their pronouncements, no matter how violent, no matter how cruel.

And when LeBeouf departs, saying to Mattie, “I misjudged you as well. I extend my hand”, it is as moving a movie-moment as I know.

And if you haven’t seen it and you go and see it now, possibly on the strength of this love-letter, you probably won’t have the same regard for it as I do. Over multiple re-watching, it has become more to me than a cinematic entertainment. It is, I suppose, a sort of ‘comfort blanket’, one that shows that, despite everything, there is still vision and wit and skill abroad in the world.

When I was re-watching the middle section this week, for the umpteenth time, I took to gently berating myself. “Here you sit, Ken Armstrong,” I said to myself, “with a hundred films at your disposal that you should see and that you have never seen and yet you watch this one again. Is your brain dead from lockdown? Is all initiative gone?”

But then, after I let up on myself a little, I came to a simple realisation that I soon decided could be the theme of this week’s post. I haven’t even said it yet although it is hinted-at in the title of this piece.

It is simply this. We can watch our movies over and over again and not need to feel remorseful or squandering of our precious time. A film can be like a long song. One that we listen to again and again and one that will brighten our day should we happen upon it out in the world. We may think we know every note and every key change, every breath the singer takes.  But each visit brings us something new, some small further small detail is revealed.

It’s great to see new things, to branch out. But it’s good to play the hits now and again too.

And good to sing along.


Marc Paterson said...

Oh I do love a good familiar movie, just like a favourite album. Dare I say it (I do) I think I prefer a movie experience to reading a book. It's always spoken to me more powerfully than any other art form.

marty47 said...

something I have always done too Ken. I began watching Raiders of the Lost Ark 14 times in 'The Gaiety'.As you know I love movies, thru the years I amassed a fair collection of VHS, DVD, Blu Rays. There are DVD's & Blu-rays here that I bought nearly
15 years ago still it plastic wrap with either a Zaavi or HMV, or Extra-Vision price sticker on them. They mostly 'new releases'from that time, but never got round to looking at, I'd normally buy older movies too & if they were a favourite then they'd be watched 1st. 2 films I'd almost worn out North by Northwest & The Ipcress File, I have multiple versions of many films, but these 2 are special. Ipcress with the great soundtrack & the odd camera angles, always attracts. I have a version with Sidney J Furie & Bond editor Peter Hunt commentating. It's fascinating, Furie is almost obsessed with the percieved personal hate he experienced from Ipcress &Bond producer Harry Saltzman, & Hunt, knowing Saltzmans fiery character, tries unsuccessfully to soothe his angst.So I usually watch the movie & then watch again with commentary playing.I think when you find a film that gives pleasure it deserves re watching even repeatdly Hope you're keeping well Ken Stay Safe GH

Ken Armstrong said...

Ah G, we've done some movie-hours, you and me. The Ipcress File is also one of my go-to movies, I've watched it again and again and I am a massive John Barry fan. You and me saw The Man with the Golden Gun on a Friday evening in the Savoy when it came out (among many other films) and it was the first time I was allowed to go to an evening show by myself. A fond memory. I find that the Tinker Tailor film contains at least some of the DNA of Ipcress and I think it has one of the best closing sequences ever. Keep enjoying, eh? K

Jim Murdoch said...

My current wife introduced me to the Coen Brothers. Before meeting her I was aware of them but I hadn’t even watched Blood Simple. Steadily we worked our way through their back catalogue and kept that up until The Ladykillers which IMHO was a far less successful remake than True Grit which, I’d freely admit, I did not expect to be nearly as good as it turned out although if push comes to shove I still prefer the original. Not sure there’s a major John Wayne film I’ve not seen and most more than once. I could happily sit down right now and watch The Sons of Katie Elder or The Searchers but I have a bit of a soft spot for The Shootist which I missed on its original release and it was only years later I final got the chance to see it. Not quite sure what happened after The Ladykillers but we seemed to watch fewer and fewer films and now we watch hardly any.

I don’t rewatch anything these days. Too much new stuff. I have mixed feelings about this new world I find myself in. Was life so much worse when we only had three channels? I recall the hype that came with the arrival of Channel 4 but it really never lived up to its potential and about the only thing I ever watch on it now (or one of its various incarnations) are foreign TV series and the same is mostly true when it comes to BBC4. The really annoying thing is that I know how much I’m missing because it’s not until you can pretty much recite a script by heart (as I can probably do with Blade Runner) you start to catch all the subtleties.

I’m very much looking forward to the remakes of Talking Heads this week. I’ve seen the originals at least twice but have high hopes most of the new actors will do the words justice. Big fan of Mr Bennett. Never seen anything by him I didn’t like but the format of Talking Heads was very much in the back of my mind when I wrote my short story collection. And, occasionally, his voice. No one does drollery better than Mr Bennett. Not even Ms Austen.