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um... who me? uh i guess i'm the lounge's resident tranny. old school bustie formerly known as butta.

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 | Category: film
entry May 5 2007, 02:13 PM

addendum: it's been more than a week since viewing they shoot horses, don't they? and i have to say, it's only grown in my appreciation. it is the rare movie that i am interested in seeing more than once. they come around maybe once every 2 or 3 years. the thing that all movies that i want to see again have in common, is that they are always, very taut, tightly woven stories, they are the quintessentual "well made [movies]." there are no loose ends, often the first shot carries as much meaning as the last as to the film and the charecter's trajectories. the mise-en-scene is carefully chosen and shot to reinforce the story. these are films that are meant to be read, and re-read. the last few movies i have wanted to see again: tale of two sisters, oldboy, 3 iron, and memories of murder.

yesterday i watched a movie that i had been waiting to see for some time. it's a movie that always ends up having snippets in film studies classes or movies about movies or movies about movies in the 70's, like the brilliant, a decade under the influence which regularly shows on ifc. that movie is they shoot horses, don't they?"

part of the interest for me is the odd titlle, but as i've said, it was made in the 70's. in american film, the 70's were, are and odd age. gone is a lot of the optimism of the 40's 50's and 60's. they gave way, because of watergate, vietnam, and other things to a disillusionment, and cynicism. on top of that it was the end of the old studio system so there was a new wave of filmakers who were financed largely because the studio couldn't figure out what audiences liked. the result is a group of movies about the individual, so unique, so different, and many of them so great that they deserve to be studied. they shoot, is one of those films.

the essentual story of they shoot horses is that it is a look at two people who sign up for a dance marathon in atlantic city durring the depression. the two people are robert, a rather wide eyed kid who gets pulled into the "contest" on accident, and gloria (jane fonda) a cynical street wise girl who knows all the angles, but thinks this is her one shot to pull herself out of her misery. the other main charecter is rocky, the smiling mc of the contest who promises $1500 to the winner. what follows, like most 70's movies, is an examination of their complete loss of innocence and hope. if that sounds a little bleak, well it is. let me put it this way, the thread on the top of the imdb site for they shoot horses as a threat titled: "your top 10 depressing movies". they shoot horses, is that.

here is a brief break, where i list some of my favorite depressing movies, in no particular order:

killer of sheep
they shoot horses, don't they?
life is sweet
last exit to brooklyn
house of sand and fog
requiem for a dream
bless the beasts and the children
a woman under the influence
in the mood for love
the passenger
cool hand luke
cries and whispers
penny serenade
pulse (original kirosawa version)
Abre los ojos (open your eyes)
benny's video
memories of murder
samarian girl
boys don't cry
mie vie en rose (my life in pink)
dog day afternoon

at this point, i should confess, i have always prefered depressing movies. there is something about them that makes me think i'm being told the truth warts and all. i have never had much of an appitite for saccarine, so depressing is quite alright with me.

they shoot horses is a very strange movie. not in terms of it's telling, it's all in flash back, and it's naturalistic almost to a fault. no, what makes it odd is it's sparseness. save the last scene, there is nothing is unbelievably, spare: there is only one location, more or less, there is almost no back story on the people in it, the three main charecters are the exception, but even what we are given of them is trimmed to the bone. no one in this movie really wants to talk, they are all facing the grimness of their lives with an attempt at stoicism. for the meat of the movie, we are shown the marathon floor with it's racetrack and stands, backstage with the mc and backstage with the contestants. there are a couple of different places at the begining, ending and flashbacks, but they hardly amount to much, no, this movie wants you to concentrate on this claustrophobic little sadistic dog and pony show, and nothing else. by the end of the movie, one is so worn down, the end, which is no suprize really comes as much of a relief as it does to the two leads.

now that i've totally scared you off of the movie, i have to tell you, i loved it. i absolutely loved it. it was completely worth the wait of the umpteen years it's taken me to get around to seeing it. this, is what i love in a movie. not just the depressing aspect, but that it is so focused, so well made. nothing is in the movie unless it has reason to be. each event, the lines, the scenes, all of it. and the way it's shot, it seems so matter of fact, even though i know they had to produce special techniques to shoot the derby scenes, they fade in. the women's eyes, in they shoot horses, seem so loaded with misery, that they haunt. there is one scene with a woman in a shower, and her eyes well up in a way that is like a punch in the stomach. it's so effecting, and when i look back at it i am almost stupified as to how. but the secret here, is that they shoot horses is self reflexive-- it is about more than just this little "contest". it is about people in the movie theatre as well as in the stands at the marathon, it is, at it's heart it is an endictment of capitolism's failings in the depression era AND the 70's, and now. it is about having the deck stacked against you. one thing that has occured to me, in the last hour thinking about the film,(and this movie is one that gets better in hindsight the more you think about it), is that they shoot horses is neo-noir in the best 70's sense. a fantastic film, and one that i would consider one of my favorites.

below are snippets of my comments from imdb's they shoot horses, don't they? board. i post under the name, "it's poop!" my exclaimation when a movie is less than good. there is a bit of over lap can read the comments in context there, or use them here to think about the film, to tell me your take on the movie or whatever, in the comments (i love a good film debate, especially when i am wrong) ..............or you can ignore them.


Q:why is gloria such a bitch?
i think i have to disagree with this idea of gloria being a bitch. she is the embodyment of people who have been so beaten down, the bite everyone. it's like that abused dog that turns on his master. she and rocky have been down this road before. they know each other, and every one of her snide comments is a growl warning others. when the dress gets stolen like most people i thought gloria might have done it, but it was rocky, who is the real villan in the piece-- the smiling facade of a sadistic system. it is no accident that he was a former faith healer's shill. and as it says he comes from a family of them, but back to the point-- the shill is the one who restores people's faith, returns their belief in something, but it is all a lie.

Q:why is robert so simple?
robert is the stand in for the audience in a lot of ways, innocent, but not easily led. when he talks about the brain tumor movie, it is gloria's cynical take on it that says it was, even in her words "probably" wrong. not proof of robert being simple. and when asked a second time about the marrage idea, he again protested. the point was that you had these two charecters-- one, gloria, cynical, streetwise, bitter and knowing all the angles (she had done these things before which is why the old lady was a fan), and the other rob't. who really didn't know about the marathon, but thru events (the death of the sailor, the dress), comes to know about them. both of these people-- polar opposites lose their optimism thru this horrible "contest." remember, at the end of the film, it's not gloria who starts with the depressed talk, he does. out on the pier, there is the shot of the ocean, and he starts talking about how he used to love the ocean, now he doesn't care. it's no accident this scene takes place at night-- remember the scene where rob't dances alone in the sunlight? or the one where he wants to watch the sunset? the movie charts his (and her),loss of innocence. i don't think that his last words, "they shoot horses, don't they?" was made to make him a simpleton either. to me it meant, "it was the least i could do." it struck me as a rather sophisticated understanding of his and gloria's situation-- it meant when someone is in such misery it's nothing but cruelty to leave them like that. even a horse gets put out of his misery. it's the sort of thing that was eluded to earlier in the film, and they are constantly refered to as animals in different ways, like when gloria sarcastically remarks before the wedding idea, "what's next? put us in cages and have them throw peanuts at us?

Q:what did rocky show gloria that got her so upset?
while the amount is NOT revealed to us, we can only go by her reaction, which, for someone who has dragged a deadman across a finishline and suffered for more than 45 days, is to see that it is all a scam. it seems she knows that her prize --if she won-- is zilch. the deck is stacked against her. it's like those people who bought things from the company store on credit-- sooner or later you find yourself an indentured servant, and working not for money but to pay an insurmoutable debt.

Q:why did gloria quit the contest?
it was a scam. the whole point of it was to put on a show. it's repeatedly refered to as such. when rob insists it's a contest, rocky sets him straight-- it's a show, and they are there to suffer, to give people something to believe in. rocky is, and always has been a sham artist-- think about it-- in a movie where the charecters have so little backstory, why do we know more about rocky than almost anyone else? thru the whole movie, he lies, cons, and cheats, he seduces. for all intents and purposes he is the devil himself, he is the loaded gun out to kill both gloria and rob from the very begining-- remember how and why rob got in the contest? he was curious, but rocky pulled him in as a partner to gloria.

Q:why does gloria want to die?
editorially, it's as she says, it's the finale, the climax of the movie. and the movie tells you many times thru roberts flashbacks (a sort of coming attractions) she will end up dead. as for her motivation, the reason she decides she wants to die is that she (and robert) have lost all hope. this was the one thing she thought she could do, and thru the whole movie she is cynical about everything but winning-- until-- the mc tells her even if she wins she gets nothing. the tab she will have acrued, it's implied, will eat up all her prize money. think about it, the mc tells her that the "kids" take up a lot of expenses, but the only people who have to pay for the expenses are the winners? what kind of sense does that make, if he's trying to make back his costs? here was the one thing that gloria thought she could do, and she finds the deck is stacked against her. she is cynical to a fault but this one ray of sunshine is taken away. she has nothing left.

Q:why don't we find out who won the contest?
one reason is that it was told in flashback by robert, and he was in jail/dead by the time the contest ended, but editorially,
anyone who wanted to see who won even for a second (myself included), fell for the trap in the film-- falling prey to the spectacle, wanting to see more of the awful suffering of those poor charecters. the sadistic show wasn't for the people in the stands of the movie, but rather for the audience WATCHING THE MOVIE. but more than that, not knowing serves the purpose of pointing out in this contest, there are no winners.

Q:what makes you think this is a neo-noir film?
well, it has all the componants of one:it's fatalistic, there is no escape for most of the charecters. they end up dead/having a nervous break down; it shows some sort of descent into darkness/immorality, it's claustrophobic, ends with a death, has the main charecter having some sort of visualization/mental break down (the horse/gloria shooting), and its told in flashback.

Q:ok, smart ass, if that was a neo-noir (and i'm not saying it was), who is the femme fatale?
not that all noir have them, but it's gloria. she seduces robert into being in the contest, and certianly fits the street wise architype.

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