The wonderful Bill has some capsule reviews here, and one of the films is Johnny Guitar. (Gotta love in the poster above how the headline is “Joan’s Greatest Triumph”. No last name necessary, then or now. Makes me think of Meryl Streep’s tired rejoinder to her mother Shirley MacLaine’s suggestion that she should count her blessings because she “could have had Joan Crawford or Lana Turner for a mother”. Meryl says, exhausted, “Joan? Lana? These are the options?”) Mitchell and I texted our way through Johnny Guitar during my isolated sojourn on Block Island last month. I have a record of our conversation, and here it is, in its unedited glory and shame. Naturally, after the movie finished, I had to call him right away so we could talk in person. Johnny Guitar is a gorgeously colored swamp of sexual psychodrama. It is also a Western. The gender roles flip-flopp, switch, meld together. Francois Truffaut, in his essay on it wrote:
Johnny Guitar is a phony Western, but not an “intellectual” one. It is dreamed, a fairy tale, a hallucinatory Western. It was only a step from the dream to Freud, which our Anglo-Saxon colleagues took up when they began talking about “psychoanalytic Westerns”. But the qualities of Ray’s film are something different, not very visible perhaps to those who have never looked through a camera’s viewer…Johnny Guitar was “made” rather hastily, out of very long scenes that were cut up into ten segments. The editing is jerky, but what interests us is something else: for example, an extraordinarily beautiful placement of individuals in a certain setting. (The members of the patrol at Vienna’s, for example, arrange themselves in the V of migratory birds.) There are two films in Johnny Guitar: Ray’s recurring theme – the relationships among the two men and two women, the violence and bitterness – and an extravagant catch-all done in Joseph von Sternberg style, a style which is absolutely foreign to Ray’s work, but which in this case is no less interesting. For instance, we watch Joan Crawford, in a white dress, playing the piano in a cavernous saloon, with a candlestick and a pistol beside her. Johnny Guitar is the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, a Western dream. The cowboys vanish and die with the grace of ballerinas. The bold violent color (by Trucolor) contributes to the sense of strangeness; the hues are vivid, sometimes very beautiful, always unexpected.
The public on the Champs-Elysees wasn’t mistaken to snicker at Johnny Guitar. In five years they’ll be crowding into the Cinema d’Essai to applaud it.
Here we go:
Mitchell: Johnny Guitar is on tcm…have u seen it?
Mitchell: Camp. Retro. Psychological classic.
The movie begins. We continue to text one another throughout.
Me: Omg her outfit.
Mitchell: The colors of the film r great.
Me: I’m so used to seeing her in black and white.
Mitchell: The lesbian villain has arrived. Not subtle. Ray was subversive.
Me: Yes quite blatant. I love the wind in the background
Mitchell: He created a whole Lez icon… lipstick. And a gun.
Me: And a butch haircut
Mitchell: “if I don’t kill u fearst.”
Me: Wow. Johnny Guitar’s speaking voice is seeexy
Me: Hahaha fearst
Me: The lesbian is upset
Mitchell: She said tramp like wishful thinking
Me: Exactly. You wish you could be a tramp!
Mitchell: Like she is so sexually repressed. She is rageful
Me: Joan is scary gorgeous
Mitchell: Look at her brows
Me: love her acting
Mitchell: Me too. She means business
Me: I guess I didn’t know her eyes were so blue
Mitchell: She was blue eyed and freckled
Me: Is that Ernest Borgnine?
Me: Her tie is killing me.
Mitchell: It’s so hyper realism. All archtypes turned on their head. With poetic dialogue and saturated color. Gender studies heaven
Me: Turkey lost his virginity to Vienna, I’m thinkin
Mitchell: Nice call
Mitchell: Wait until Joan wears all white
Me: How old is Joan here?
Me: I love how Joan just said that line “Enough”.
Mitchell: I want Lez back. All angry and moist
Me: She’s angry BECAUSE she’s moist. What a betrayal of the body
Mitchell: Exactly. Also the cowboy rivals for Joan are a dancer and a musician. Not exactly butch. The women are butcher
Me: Right, lots of anxiety about gender
Mitchell: Can’t be accidental. Not with Ray’s issues
Me: Oh totally
Me: Oh, Turkey.
Me: Jesus, Johnny Guitar is hot
Me: Beautiful colors
Mitchell: Bad dreams
Mitchell: Truffaut and Almadovar worship this film
Me: The colors remind me of Almadovar
Mitchell: So true. I think he even refers to it in Women on the Verge
Mitchell: Turkey needs a spanking
Me: He “makes her feel like a woman and that frightens her”. What a line!
Me: Emma, you need to chillax
Mitchell: Put ur cock away lesbian!
Mitchell: I think they pass Turkey around when there ain’t no women folk
Me: Oh definitely Turkey is their bitch boy
Mitchell: Blue and orange colors
Me: White dress!
Mitchell: So girly all of a sudden
Me: Joan at the piano?? Brill!
Mitchell: Black and white ladies
Me: But the short hair is a dead giveaway
Me: She’s just such a damn good actress
Me: Poor Turkey
Mitchell: Sweet boy
Me: Emma’s a cunt
Mitchell: Big time. She did the devil’s voice in The Exorcist
Me: Every shot is a mini work of art
Mitchell: It’s style as substance. Ya know?
Me: Yes, style as substance. So many directors now cannot manage that
Mitchell: Btw. Turkey tied up with pretty red lips is such fetish porn. I fucking love this movie
Mitchell: Tom Ford does in A Single Man … and Tim Burton. But it’s rare.
Me: Rare yes. Michael Mann does it too.
Me: Look at Joan swimming!
Mitchell: Lol. Like my aunt Dottie
Me: Ha! You know, Joan was a huge star obviously, but I sense very little vanity in her actual acting
Mitchell: She liked working
Me: You can really sense that
Mitchell: She and Mercedes hated each other
Mitchell: Yeah. Joan was threatened by her … acted aloof.
Me: In a cage match I’d bet on Joan
Mitchell: She’ll fight dirty
Me: This is a fascinating movie. Ur right … subversive.
Mitchell: Here we go. Showdown.
Mitchell: The women are having the showdown in 1954
Mitchell: Great Peggy Lee song
Movie over. Ring, ring ….