(Author’s note: I am a film buff. I am a history buff. With The Rear View I invite you along with me to revisit important films in movie history. – Matt Edwards)
“It’s a helluva thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got… all he’s ever gonna have.” – William Munny
Out of the countless films I’ve watched more than once, this western tale of revenge, redemption and rampage ranks among the greatest stories ever filmed. I know I’m not making some avant-garde claim that this mainstream Hollywood film is a masterpiece. Unforgiven won almost every best picture award of the season from film academies, film critic circles, guilds and magazine polls.
Clint Eastwood cleaned up in the director accolades. David Webb Peoples was singled out multiple times for his brilliant screenplay. Gene Hackman seemed to win every supporting actor award. (In my view he was simply the spokesman for accepting the awards for his the entire supporting acting team of Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Frances Fisher.)
Clint’s longtime cinematographer, Jack N. Green, photographed the most beautiful of America’s big sky west. (Personally, the fact that Jack Green also DP’d Serenity completes me.) Oscar-winning editor Joel Cox has been with Eastwood every step of the way in Eastwood’s filmmaking career and the mood he and his sound designers create is unparalleled. Eastwood even wrote the theme for the score of the film which quite hauntingly reverbs from every distant mountain, rain cloud and field of grass which grace the screen. In short, Eastwood’s team in front of and behind the camera deserve every bit of praise.
I want to single out the editing and sound design for a moment. Two things that rarely get their due recognition outside of those awkward moments when Scarlett Johansson hands some guy who’s been locked up in a sound booth for 16 hours a day an Oscar. When a sound mix is done right, you don’t notice it one bit. It’s not until repeated viewings that you start to look around with your ears. The use of the thunderstorm in films can, has been, and will always be, overused in movies. However, if you ever want to know how to use it correctly, I can’t stress enough how perfectly it’s used this film. It’s a theme that makes absolute sense. The thunderstorm is the Greek chorus of the story and is accompanied by chilled winds, creaking floorboards, and… perfectly timed silence.
With all that Hollywood offers us today, this film from 22 years ago manages to do something that very few films do. In the context of the Hollywood western film genre, Unforgiven is the grand finale of the first century of Hollywood filmmaking, if you will. From Charlie Chaplin to Hitchcock, John Ford to Spielberg, Howard Hawks to John Hughes, American Film of the twentieth century was the age of discovery in the art of storytelling with moving pictures. In a vacuum, Unforgiven is able to stand as a great film. But this film does not live in vacuum and neither do we. Unforgiven was made at the perfect time — a time after so much film history had been laid out.
Let’s look at some of the events that had to occur in that history leading up to filming Unforgiven in order for this film to have as large an impact on audiences as it did and will continue to do so, if we preserve and revisit film history: (more…)