Things I Love About Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller

1. The & in the title. This is a business partnership.

2. The fact that when she is alone in her room at the whorehouse, she is always reading. It’s just such a nice unexpected detail. I was dying to know what book she was reading. A novel? Or maybe a book of economics? A biography? The Bible?

3. The sense that nature is always whistling in through the cracks in the floorboards. The windows are fogged up, the trees heavy with icicles, the wind howls, you can feel how cold everyone is always. Indoors is indistinguishable from outdoors.

4. How McCabe talks to himself. It is never fetishized or dwelt on, it’s not a “bit”, which is the best part of it. It is him working things out for himself, getting his frustrations out. He is not the brightest man, although ambitious. He needs to work things out on his own time, and his choices are not always the best. So he talks to himself when he’s alone. “I got poetry in me…” he blusters at one point. Beatty does not seem to be performing here. It is a classic example of the Private Moment.

5. Keith Carradine’s young friendly cowboy character (his film debut). His character’s death always upsets me, no matter that I know it is coming. He has, what, 10 lines in the film? Doesn’t matter. From the moment he shows up, I like him. I feel the loss.

6. Michael Murphy. I love Michael Murphy. I am happy when he shows up in anything. To me, he will always be the guy in What’s Up, Doc?, but I love him in Nashville (that powder-blue suit) and I love him here.

7. How Julie Christie devours her food in the first scene with McCabe, her hands dripping with bacon fat and egg juice from mopping up the excess with a clump of bread. She is concentrated and starving. Hard to imagine an actress of today allowing herself to be seen like that in a film where she is also the Leading Lady, or at least without making a big show of how “unglamorous” she was being. Christie manages to eat like a slob and still be beautiful and powerful. He stares across the table at her, amazed. Aroused. A woman with such a voracious appetite for food suggests other possibilities. She is unaware of his gaze. Or maybe she is aware, but she is too damn hungry to care.

8. How, except for the periodic Leonard Cohen songs, there is zero soundtrack. Music does not underscore scenes. We are not told how to feel by insistent music. Even the Cohen songs are ambivalent and ambiguous. Meaning is left to be assigned by us, out there in the dark watching.

9. Random overheard dialogue from minor characters, typical Altman style, like the guy in the bar who wonders if he should shave his beard. “I have been thinking of shaving off my beard.” Pause from the man listening. Then: “Why would you want to do that?” Moving on. It is a glimpse, a fragment, there for texture, filling in the blanks of the people living in this tiny town, and the movie is filled with moments like that. No one is a caricature. Even the murderers at the end are not caricatures. They are hard men. They have objectives and goals and McCabe is in the way.

10. The entire sequence with the church on fire. Amazing.

11. The chilling moment at the funeral of one of the guys in the town. His wife (a mail-order bride played by Shelley Duvall) stands by the grave, looking around. She barely knew her husband. She is now out in the middle of the wilderness, a widow, with no one to look after her. She looks across the grave at Julie Christie, bundled up against the cold, and Christie is giving her a calculating dead-on stare. You know what it means. Only one place for Shelley Duvall now. It is brutal. All with no dialogue.

12. The scene with William Devane, the lawyer McCabe goes to see, trying to figure out how to deal with the big company that wants to purchase his mining interests. What is interesting to me about this scene is: Mrs. Miller has advised McCabe, in a panic, to make a deal with the corporation. She knows the stakes. Take the money and go. If you hold out, these guys don’t mess around. They will come and kill you. McCabe is slow on the uptake, slow to realize that he is wrestling with a giant anaconda, but once he gets the picture he tries to find the deal-makers, to say, “Okay, okay, let’s make a deal.” In the meantime, the lawyer, played by Devane, in a subtle scene, so subtle you might miss it, advises him to hold out. “You are a symbol of the little man. The small business owner. We can fight this in the courts.” These are hi-falutin’ words in such a rough world with such rough justice, and you can see a flicker of unease cross McCabe’s face. In the courts? But … won’t he be killed in the meantime? How much time will all this take? Devane is a theorist, a man with an ego who wants to make his name. He deals in symbols, and ideals … and convinces McCabe that this is the right thing. When McCabe goes back to Mrs. Miller to report on the meeting, he spouts some of the theories from the lawyer, as though he has now taken them on – “Someone’s got to stand up for the little guy … this is a free market … someone’s got to make a stand …” These words don’t sound right coming from McCabe’s lips. They are regurgitated theories that may work well in a classroom or a law book, but it will not help him in the crisis he is in at the moment when outlaws are going to kill him to get him out of the way. Devane is “right”, intellectually. But he is dead wrong, when seen in the larger context. Mrs. Miller gets that immediately. It’s one scene, but it’s crucial. There is an intellectual point being made, about politics and economics, and we already know (because we have seen McCabe be unable to add up 14 and 9 in his head) that McCabe is out of his depth.

13. With all his stature as a movie star and sex symbol, I think Warren Beatty is best when he plays a man a little bit out of his depth. Surprised by how little he knows (he’s always got a huge ego), and befuddled and frustrated when he comes up against a stronger force. (Bonnie and Clyde, Reds, even Shampoo). He is best when he plays someone who has all the trappings of a winner, but who doesn’t quite have the intellectual fortitude to be Top Dog. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially with Beatty, in his prime here.

14. I love the perfect blend of hard and soft in Julie Christie’s character. She is tough and uncompromising, she knows what she needs to set up a “proper” whorehouse, knows that McCabe is an amateur (“What do you do if two girls fancy each other? What about when they get their monthlies? Who’s gonna inspect the customers? Because if you don’t, your town will be clapped up within the month.”), and makes demands all along the way to get what she needs. I love how Altman sort of leaps us into their sexual relationship without showing us the setup. We see the start of their business partnership, we see the creation of the whorehouse, and then suddenly there’s a scene where he’s getting ready to get into bed with her, and it is obviously not the first time. I love it when movies force me to play catch-up. And I love how she always makes him pay. But when he is down, and scared, she treats him with compassion and caring. She does not belittle him. She listens when he needs it. She is a strong woman, and in her he has met his match (I love when she quizzes him arrogantly about arithmetic, showing her own knowledge of figures), but why he goes to her, why men so often go to prostitutes, is not for the sex, but for the listening ear and the companionship. That is what is missing for them. Julie Christie plays this perfectly, and with zero cliches. She always seems like a real person, not a page out of the Whore With Heart of Gold playbook. We never once see the two of them kiss. We don’t need to.

15. The last shot. Because of what I just said about Mrs. Miller, as played by Julie Christie, it is doubly devastating. It calls to mind the last shot from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, with a bit of the same reverb: someone consciously losing themselves in an opium haze, as the world goes to shit outside. It’s infuriating and sad. She has already moved on at that point, even though she is unaware of the hell that is breaking loose on the other side of town. She knew what would happen already, and she had let him go in her heart. Everyone is flawed. She is an ambitious businesswoman, a good boss, and a drug addict. I do not have high hopes for her chances of remaining spiritually and emotionally intact after the film is over, and that makes me sad. I would like to think of her going on with her life, sitting in her room at night with her music box on, reading whatever it is she likes to read, enjoying the gentle unwinding of her busy days. But that’s just a fantasy. She will now be lost. She chose it. She chose to be lost.

A real film for grown-ups.

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28 Responses to Things I Love About Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller

  1. Phil P says:

    “How, except for the periodic Leonard Cohen songs, there is zero soundtrack. Music does not underscore scenes. We are not told how to feel by insistent music.”

    I haven’t seen the film in ages, and though I recall enjoying it, my memory of it is a bit faint. But I’m really pleased by your comment on the music, or rather absence of. One of my pet peeves is intrusive musical scores. There are whole movies that have been ruined for me by that, but reading reviews, both professional and amateur, I get the impression that few people care. I would add that music can be good and still be intrusive. For example there is an early scene in On the Waterfront between Brando and Marie-Saint where I always found the Leonard Bernstein score to be distracting. In general I dislike music in dialogue scenes except in moments of high emotional intensity.

    Not to suggest that I dislike music – on the contrary! Many of my favorite films are greatly enhanced by the music. But I’m glad I’m not the only one who cares about such things.

  2. Tommy says:

    The problem with owning tiny TV’s, or watching movies on computers, as I do more often than not, is that I forget what beautiful flicks some movies are. McCabe & Mrs. Miller is one of them.

    Once upon a time, I didn’t dig this one. Couldn’t even really say why. May have just been my mood the first time I saw it. Then, I gave it another try based on finding it for $2 in a used bin, and ended up watching part of it on mute, while I took a phone call. I’d normally balk at that idea, because Altman’s dialog and interactions (and the background conversations, as you mention) are generally the reason I’m watching his movies. But it wasn’t until I’d turned the sound down that I noticed that this is as visually stunning a movie as any of Altman’s. Now, I’ll give it a watch every year or so…..

  3. miker says:

    Thanks for helping remind me how much I love this movie. I have it on DVD but haven’t watched it for a long time, even though it’s one one my all-time favorites. I think sometimes I get subconsciously apprehensive that a film will be less great on subsequent viewing than it was initially. After reading this brilliant, incisive recap, any such doubts have been assuaged from existence. The vignettes you chose and your reactions to them correspond so precisely with my memory – it’s a luxurious, wonderful sensation to know such a talented kindred spirit is out there.

    I have to say it – Ebert should have chosen you to be the host of his new show.

  4. sheila says:

    Phil P – a bossy soundtrack is one of my huge pet peeves! It can seriously RUIN an otherwise good movie! Or, at least, a potentially good scene can be ruined by having an obvious song underneath it, underlining what you already see. The goal to sell soundtracks is obviously a part of this trend – and it’s a bummer, because when music is used sensitively and well – it doesn’t even have to be sparely – it feels like a part of the movie. But when you sense a glorified iPod playlist going on ….

    I actually could have done without the Leonard Cohen songs altogether in McCabe & Mrs. Miller – although there is a haunting quality to the music which does work. But I don’t even remember what scenes the music goes with – it’s so subtly done.

  5. sheila says:

    Tommy – I went for a couple of years watching movies on my laptop – and you know, yo make due with what you have – but when I finally splurged and got my big TV I felt like I was released from prison. Nothing more useless than watching, oh, Days of Heaven on a LAPTOP.

    I really love McCabe & Mrs. Miller. There’s a plot – but it’s really not “about” anything. The one scene with the lawyer is a hint at a larger theme – the sort of cynical using of political and economic theory to get your own name in the paper and push your pet issues forward … but that’s certainly not in every scene. It’s not a “message” movie.

    I love Beatty’s performance too. He’s very cocksure in some scenes, and then totally unsure in other scenes, and it all just works!

    Also, the scene when the 3 murders show up to find him in the last sequence – it made me think that Peter Weir must have studied this sequence for that dawn-arrival of the killers at the end of Witness, and that ominous shot of the three guys walking down the empty road, holding shotguns, before the sun came up.

    Shivers.

  6. sheila says:

    And Tommy – I love your memory about turning the sound down! What a cool observation! I agree that it really is a beautiful-LOOKING movie.

  7. sheila says:

    Mike – I love the people Roger chose for his show, they’re some of my favorite writers out there.

  8. Pingback: Things To Love About McCabe & Mrs. Miller « Movie City News

  9. Phil P says:

    “I actually could have done without the Leonard Cohen songs altogether…”

    On the other hand, can you imagine The Graduate without the Simon & Garfunkel songs?

  10. Greg Hoey says:

    Very nice piece. Good to see some current love for MCCABE . . . . and I really appreciate the collection of frame grabs. That said, I must — nicely — comment on the lack of love and even the lack of mention for cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond AND for Altman’s support of Zsigmond’s extremely daring and risky approach to shooting the film . . . and also for the lack of love for production designer Leon Ericksen.

    I agree with all the points you mentioned and would empathically add how the photography and design created a “feel” that enhanced every other aspect of the film. MCCABE was an incredibly influential film visually and that influence continues to this day. Zsigmond’s “No Light / warm natural Lit / Faded Old Photograph” look and and Erickson’s “Freshly Built But Crude And Utilitarian” design aesthetic has found it’s way into almost every western since 1971. The “look” of MCCABE is without question
    a fully co-equal character in the film.

    With respect, it is impossible to discuss the importance of MCCABE with out discussing Zsigmond and Erickson’s work . . . . I’m just sayin”.

  11. sheila says:

    Greg – No “lack of love” as you say, unless “lack of love” means “I just didn’t happen to mention it” in this piece. It was meant to be fragmentary stream-of-conscious thoughts of what moves me about the film (this is often how I write) – and with all due respect – nicely – :) – no, it is not “impossible” to discuss the film without discussing them. Because I just did! It may not be to your satisfaction, but that’s always going to happen when you write about a film everyone knows and loves. And I realize it was an influential film. No need to educate me on that score.

    But I totally agree with all my heart that the look of the film is absolutely extraordinary and the contributions of Zsigmond and Erickson are huge. Some of the shots literally stop my heart with their beauty and atmosphere. I love that whole town. I felt like, by the end of the film, that I knew my way around those streets and sidewalks intimately. I knew exactly where he was during the shootout at the end, I knew where the church was in relation to him, I was completely oriented to that location. Beautiful.

    Thanks for commenting.

  12. sheila says:

    Phil P – Yes, that is very true! I didn’t feel the Leonard Cohen songs were as essential to McCabe & Mrs. Miller as the Simon and Garfunkel songs were to The Graduate – but they certainly didn’t distract, as we mentioned we hate. They weren’t used in a bossy way. They are lovely and sad and the lyrics are evocative, and they create the proper mood.

  13. sheila says:

    I love, too, how it is made clear – in one or two subtle moments – that McCabe’s shady past – he killed someone, etc. – is a bit of an exaggeration. Rumors passed on, unsubstantiated. It’s never made explicit, but that was the best part of it. “That man never killed anybody …” says the bad-ass in the big fur coat, watching McCabe walk out of the bar. Again, it’s never substantiated – it’s just one of those things, how rumors start, and people’s pasts come up to haunt them … and McCabe never defends himself against the rumors (mainly started by Sheehan, the Irishman). I liked that mystery.

  14. george says:

    Sheila,

    The devil’s in the details and so is Altman.

    First time I saw M & MM I found many of the details a distraction. We, in our daily lives, ‘know’ of the extraneous sounds around us and tune them out but leave our sonars on to catch interesting (and vital) pings. M & MM forces us to deal with all this and it takes getting used to – at least it did for me.

    As distracting as those details were the details in the performances were entirely engaging and well worth the extra concentration.

  15. Tony Dayoub says:

    “I actually could have done without the Leonard Cohen songs altogether in McCabe & Mrs. Miller – although there is a haunting quality to the music which does work.”

    His songs are what elevate this above the typical Altman exploration of a cross-section of society into a realm of loneliness and fable. I just can’t imagine the film without it or the beautiful opening credit sequence.

    “There’s a plot – but it’s really not “about” anything.”

    Here, I must also disagree. What always interested me most about this movie is how it plays with the traditional three-act cinematic structure. Most films run like this: Act One (Setup) – 20-25 mins; Act Two (Plot) – 60-80 mins; Act Three (Payoff) – 20-25 mins. McCABE runs like this: Act One (Setup) – 80 mins; Act Two (Plot) – 15 mins; Act Three (Payoff) – 25 mins. Everything you learn about McCabe and the town in those first 80 minutes is essential to what comes after and it is why the film feels so rich.

  16. sheila says:

    Tony – Oh, I agree that those first 80 minutes are essential – and what I love about it is how the payoffs are ALL there. The setups come early on, and with everyone you get the payoff:

    1. The first interaction with the preacher when he comes in during the first poker game. He barely has any lines in the film, but of course his role in the shootout at the end – and his anger at McCabe which has been festering ever since McCabe shows up – suddenly comes to fruition. You remember their first silent interaction, and there’s that one closeup of the preacher looking on at the poker game, and you know something’s going on with this guy.

    2. The little tow-headed guy who shoots Keith Carradine. He’s another one who appears early, and when that standoff comes on the bridge, it has this feeling of a Greek tragedy with its inevitability.

    3. The whole arc of Shelley Duvall’s character.

    4. Sheehan is an interesting character, and I find his interactions with McCabe to be fascinating – friendly, yet with an edge. McCabe picks up on the edge, and Sheehan will laugh, to play the fool and take the edge off, but he’s making trouble behind the scenes. His assumption (from the last name, I’m assuming) that McCabe is Catholic … and how that informs how he deals with him … all of those tiny details in the couple of interactions they have all lead up to the final showdown in the end. You feel the inevitability, in a sense, of what occurs – and how Sheehan has played some small part in it.

    I love how it unfolds, in what feels an organic way, so that the characters present themselves, and we get to know their faces/qualities/reactions in a way that feels like we are eavesdropping and peeking through windows.

    My sense of what it is “about”, however, is that it is about the characters, and their silences and contemplations, the sounds of nature, and the world being depicted. The plot is clear, obviously, this is not a plot-less movie – and there is nothing in this that feels muddy or meandering or pointless. But the way it unfolds feels like a natural outpouring of life. It all feels unbearably real to me. Almost to the point where I feel like I can smell what all of these people smell like. They are ripe!

  17. miker says:

    I’m keeping an open mind about the new show, but I think it’s highly unlikely either of them will be as good as you could be in that role. :-)

    In lesser movies, the plot tends to be an end in its own right, while the characters are merely cardboard cutouts. With this film, the plot exists only as a means for the rich, finely wrought characters to reveal themselves. It does feel intensely real and natural – a great work of art.

  18. sheila says:

    Mike – thanks for the compliment but I disagree.

  19. Boone says:

    Finally grabbed time to comment, thrilled to this essay when I first read it last week.

    McCabe & Mrs. Miller is the one Altman film I really love rather than just vaguely admire. I first saw it on a little portable DVD player, sitting on a bunk in a rooming house in East NY on a quiet, rainy Saturday, curtains drawn. I was in a mood. The movie comes on, and that music, and that rain. Damn. I was lost in its world until the last shot. Soul, pure soul. This movie is about everything that makes America terrifying. In a bluesy register.

    You really saw the movie that I saw. And your stills are keeeling me.

    It was so lovely on a 7″ screen, I wonder what a 35mm print or a Blu-ray would do to my head.

  20. EvilinGarnett says:

    lovely piece, Sheila. Just saw it again on the tube and was reminded of it’s singularity. In addition to everything else, it really is an “anti-western”.
    Question:
    Any one have any thoughts about the last shot in which the camera close up is extended into Christie’s eye and then beyond, into the retina itself? It always startles me out of a trance.

  21. sheila says:

    Boone – Lovely image of your first time seeing it. Yes, the rain in that opening sequence!! His hat totally waterlogged, the closeups of the horses hooves, and the music, and the landscape. The sound of the rain mixed with the Leonard Cohen song – it’s really an incredible opening.

    This is one of those movies that I have never seen on a big screen. I am sure that would be a whole other experience.

    One of the scenes I didn’t mention that I think is so well-constructed and absolutely frightening is early on in the film, before the arrival of Mrs. Miller. McCabe has the three tents set up for his whores, and it’s so filthy and matter-of-fact that an ache started in me. I’m not anti-prostitution but something else was going on with those tents – you just felt the end of the road for those women, their lives ended before it began – and there’s one girl who you know is terrified, and not handling it well. The other two are more resilient, but there was one shrinking young girl who huddled in her tent – and early on, while McCabe and Sheehan are having a talk up in McCabe’s room, suddenly the air is filled with screams. McCabe rushes to the window. The way Altman filmed the next sequence is part of why it got me on such a deep level – The terrified girl is attacking a man outside of her tent. Altman films it from above, from McCabe’s POV – it’s hard to tell what is going on – Then, Altman is down on the ground – she is out of her mind, she has snapped – plunging a knife into this guy, over and over – Just totally rabid and fighting back. It’s filmed in a jagged way, yet a matter-of-fact way – there’s a documentary-feel to it. It is brutal. We never see the young girl again, but she is one of the things I remember most in the film. What happened to her?

  22. sheila says:

    (And, of course, the reason for that scene in terms of “story” is to prove Mrs. Miller’s point when she finally arrives and tells him he has no idea how to run a whorehouse, he is way out of his league. He is not a bad man, or cruel – but he definitely needs help in picking girls who won’t freak out like that – and who can handle the rigors of such a job.)

  23. sheila says:

    Evilin – That last shot is amazing, and I remember the first time I saw the film, years ago, thinking: “Wait … no … this isn’t the end, is it?” I was waiting for the big payoff – of her finding McCabe dead in the snow, and wailing her grief up into the sky. You know, the typical way such a movie would end in a typical movie. When it didn’t come, I had a strange settling-in, a sort of settling down – accepting the implications of this particular ending. It knocked my socks off. Then how it goes from her eye to the little ceramic object she is holding, the light bringing out rainbow colors on its surface. She is lost to the world. It’s tragic.

  24. Kristofer says:

    I think that the best scene is when McGabe talks with the leader of the contract killers and understand that this guy isnt someone you argue with. McGabe wear a huge bear clothing and the killer says -I came to hunt bear : ) Exceptional good acting of both men in this unordinary movie.

  25. Steven Gowin says:

    McCabe and Mrs. Miller, certainly, is the best film ever made.

    With Unforgiven (Eastwood), and No Country for Old Men, you’d have a dynamite triple feature. Like Will Munny and Anton Chigurh in Old Men, McCabe is, at least in the beginning, drifting, perhaps even soulless.

    He blows, almost literally with the wind. It’s for that reason (McCabe’s soullessness) that the William Devane character so easily influences McCabe, and of course that influence and more precisely McCabe’s acceptance that signals the end of the American dream.

    A couple other little thing. I think it wasn’t always freezing in Presbyterian Church (although arguably pretty cold). The rains preceded the snow that had fallen in the final scenes. Still, though your perception of the wind blowing through the floorboards is wonderful. Back to Devane, I believe a photo of William Jennings Bryant hangs on Devane’s office wall. And, randomly, Warren Miller also played “out of his element” in Bulworth.

    Supporting acting is very strong, Bert Remsen, Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck (who you mentioned), Robert Fortier as the town drunk is amazing; his ice dance is at once hilarious and pathetic. I probably could go on and on about this film. I sometimes fantasize about returning to film school just to write a dissertation on McCabe and Mrs. Miller and the end of the American Western… although I’m certain someone’s probably already done that.

    Citizen Kane… nice piece of work. McCabe and Mrs. Miller… perfect cinema. Thanks for your thoughts.

  26. rb says:

    The movie is about the old west like MASH was about the Korean War.

    It’s about the 1960’s turning into the 70’s (and now). And a very doomy movie at that.

  27. Peter says:

    What Robert Altman said about Leonard Cohen and his songs on the audio track of the DVD of McCabe and Mrs. Miller :
    I didn’t have any idea what I’m going to do for the music other than the few music box you’ve heard and that fiddle player. We finished shooting and I went to Paris […] After about five days we went to some woman’s house, there was a party, we walked in and she put on the record player that Leonard Cohen album. Now, I first went to Vancouver 3-4 years before this, when that album came out, I did a film called Cold Day in the Park, and I loved that album, we played that, we went through two records of it, you know, wore them out. We’d come back in that rainy place from working and we’d put that Leonard Cohen album on, and it was just in my brain. And then I entirely forgot about it. And during this whole production never once could I come up with what the music is going to be. [In Paris] I heard that Leonard Cohen stuff and I said “My God, that’s the music for McCabe.” So I got on the phone, I called Lou Lombardo who was editing the film [and told him to] get this Leonard Cohen album […] and I found the music for the film. […] Warner Brothers said “Oh, you can’t use that, because he has a contract with Columbia, but we’ll get you somebody just as good.” I said, “No, no, wait a minute […]”.
    So I chased Leonard Cohen down, he was in Nashville, and I called him on the phone and I said, “Mr. Cohen, my name is Robert Altman…”, and he said, “Robert Altman?!”. Now, I only made MASH, as far as the public was concerned, and Brewster McCloud, which was almost unheard of, but he said, “Honey, it’s Altman, Altman on the phone!” He was really excited, and I felt pretty good. He said, “I love your work”, and I said “That’s good, you like MASH, ha?” He replied, “I didn’t like MASH very much but I love Brewster McCloud”. And then I told him what I wanted and he said, “Don’t worry about it, you’ve got it.” And within the next day, not only did his record company, Columbia, called and they gave us this music for next to nothing, minimal rates, plus the fact that Leonard had put in the contract that any record sales of that album, after the release of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a certain percentage of those royalties went to us, to the film. Now that’s just unheard of, but that’s the way business should be done […].
    Then Leonard saw the picture, I showed it to him in New York – he was changing managers then – and he didn’t respond very much during the film, and afterwards he had to do a little guitar reef for me that we used for the entrance of the “heavies”. I said “What’s the matter?” He said, “I’m sorry but I don’t like this film very much.” My heart just sunk, I really just collapsed, and he said, “But I’ll live up to my bargain”, and he went over that night, did that guitar thing, sent it to me, and I never heard from him again. And yet he made all this arrangements… But it just broke my heart, and I tried to forget about it. And a year later I was in London and he called me on the phone and he said, “Bob, I don’t know what was the matter with me. I just saw McCabe again – I love this movie.” That was the best thing that happened to me, that he responded so well to it. That’s how that music happened to be in this film.
    The other thing about it: it fits, the lyrics of these three songs fit the scenes as if they were written for them. I think truthfully what probably happened was that that music was in my head so deep, that when I shot these scenes, subconsciously I fit the scenes to the songs, in my head. Because it was like they illustrate, like they were written for it. So that was really a great experience, and a great lesson, to trust one’s instincts, because there’s a reason why you feel a certain way, and you don’t have to know the reason. If it’s there, it’s like falling in love […] you don’t have to think about those things. […] And my credo is to follow your instincts.

    I found it in the leonardcohenforum.com, posted by DBCohen.

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