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The Films of Budd Boetticher, “Camp de Thiaroye”

The Films of Budd Boetticher, “Camp de Thiaroye” (photo)

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The last of the red hot Golden Age Hollywood genre buckaroos, Budd Boetticher represented a long-vanished prototype: the man’s man studio director who, before turning gruffly to making pictures, had spent years being a boxer or a stevedore or a soldier or what have you. Today, filmmakers pay their dues by earning six figures shooting shampoo commercials; then, a man who made westerns or war movies or gangster films was a man who had lived in the world and returned with a heartful of brutal and hopeful business you can’t learn by watching other movies. In a sense, Boetticher outdid the competition by becoming a professional Mexican matador right out of college — a scenario difficult to beat for hard-won iron-man chops in Tinseltown. Of course his biography influences how his best films — the westerns he made between 1956 and 1960 — have been perceived and why they’ve been canonized, as they have been now in the new, lovely tombstone of a DVD box set from Sony. Such are the pratfalls of auteurism.

That’s not to drain air out of the films’ reputation: “Seven Men from Now” (1956), “The Tall T” (1957), “Decision at Sundown” (1957), “Buchanan Rides Alone” (1958), “Westbound” (1959), “Ride Lonesome” (1959) and “Comanche Station” (1960) are all still shockingly unique, realistic, weathered, fatalistic and never less than adult. (The DVD cache elides “Seven Men From Now” and “Westbound,” which both had different producers.) Looking at them anew, they remain quietly revolutionary, but, insofar as it matters, the achievement seems to be not only Boetticher’s, but a fortunate meeting of minds between the director, his aging star Randolph Scott, their producer Harry Joe Brown and screenwriters Burt Kennedy and Charles Lang. The films are not notable for directorial flourishes, but for a subtle, cohesive vision of humanity and community. It’s clear that this team was set, within the framework of B-movie westerns, on cleaning out the genre’s penchant for childish, mythic baloney and remaking the western the way it should be, as convincing, minor-key battles between real grown-ups in a more or less lawless landscape.

11112008_thetallt.jpgThe films, of which “The Tall T” and “Ride Lonesome” are the best and the most fully inhabited, stick to skeletal plotlines in which honor and justice are mutable, fragile things; they are as well full of convincing frontier detail (such as the recurring use of the lonely, vulnerable “swing station” outposts for stagecoach lines). The dialogue can be prototypically hokey in some of its details but utterly tough and believable in its textures, density and unmelodramatic understanding. Outlaws (like “The Tall T”‘s Richard Boone and “Ride Lonesome”‘s Pernell Roberts) are rueful bastards who would like a second chance to live normally, while Scott’s ramrod hero is both beaten by a long life and sometimes sadly holding onto his dignity as the last thing on Earth that’s his. Of course, by winnowing away the western’s accumulation of playground ethics and movie-movie reflexes Boetticher and Co. happened to reinvent the western myth in a modern mode, as an existential conflict, where even trivial actions question the point of trying to live a good life, and where time is everyone’s hardest enemy. In the lineage of the western’s profound revitalization in the postwar years, these films raised the bet of the slightly earlier Anthony Mann-James Stewart films, and paved the way for Peckinpah, Hellman and the very idea of an “anti-western,” which is when the genre ceased being just an all-American daydream and became as much a global expression of humanist despair as film noir.

It’s when movies pass from being a litany of mere particulars to being totemic and universal that we swoon for them the most, and few filmmakers made such a point of pride out of the transformation of the specific into metaphor as Ousmane Sembene, who’s most expansive film, “Camp de Thiaroye” (1987), appears finally on video for the first time. A perpetual motion machine of ethical ambiguity and confrontational tension, Sembene’s was one of the first African films to explore contemporary native history, and was the first Pan-African feature produced completely without European technical aid or co-financing — it took nearly 30 years, but with this Algerian-Tunisian-Senegalese co-production, West Africa could truly be said to have its own film industry.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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