Monday, January 4, 2010

The Grey Fox

(Phillip Borsos, 1983)
1901 as seen by a time traveller from the 1860s - stagecoach bandit Bill Miner emerges from 33 years in jail to find a world of gadgets that peel apples, trains that lumber across the landscape, and film shows that immortalize great train robbers. And so Phillip Borsos layers his tale of humanity outside the law with the self-conscious countertheme of movies interacting with history, an apt concern for what has got to be the most physically gorgeous film ever produced in this country. Its endless panoramas quickly become glowing demonstrations in the construction of mythology, only the dramatics are so intimate that it never becomes grandiose; every character and every extra radiate a deep, unknowable humanity. And the preoccupation with mythology is shared by Miner himself - as played by the lovable Richard Farnsworth, he's a mad artist, a 'nobody' with an eye on immortality. His ramblings take him from clam farming to a mining refuge to a surprisingly moving tryst with Jackie Burroughs' countercultural photographer, punctuated by train heists of varying fortune, and it's all majestically understated and penetratingly droll. Borsos even sneaks in a visit to his beloved cooperage, tangible evidence of how close this one feature was to his own heart. That he was subsequently devoured by the hack machine is why people hate Canadian movies.

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