Apr 6, 2010

Montage American landscape

Hills and fields and ribbons of highway, deserts and wastelands, oceans and mountains, rocky canyons and cacti and redwoods.

There's not much to make me homesick. I don't tend that way. I miss times and moment, but not really places, even places I have loved.

One thing that does do it though is movie montages of American landscape. There might be a whole sub-set or sort of movies that have this, that use these, though I guess it's a trick that cuts across genres1. Crazy Heart has one early, when the main character is driving from a show in a bowling alley to a show in a Southwest bar2, and there are several more throughout the movie. I know what these montages do. It's not like it's a mystery how they work as metaphor and for pacing, and how they manipulate you to elicit a vague ache that isn't articulatable, but they move me nonetheless.

Oil rigs and storms on the skyline, sun going down, sun coming up, the flicker of light through an orchard as it's passed on a highway, and the way the mountains don't get any closer for days as you drive.

I've never seen this effect, I don't think, in cinematic montages of a city. Not because I haven't loved cities, either. When it's urban, though, it seems like the trick is more for the sake of orientation, the flashing of a landmark for tourists and a backdrop for characters, rather than for a feeling. It always seems like it's for the setting, not to communicate something in itself3. Tom Waits' song Small Change can, piling up images, get you a feeling of a city or, maybe, a feeling you'd feel in a city, but I've never got even that from a sequence of shots in a movie.

Maybe this is the way the montages work. Or maybe it's the way we think of the land, and the way that what we think of land is the site, it seems, for both the best and worst in us.

What it feels like is this little ache that doesn't articulate very well.

Sky that won't stand still and a creek at a trickle under a bridge, acres of scrub and snakes, Indian ruins and arroyos in bloom, turning stars, big-eyed bullfrog, flats of salt and flats of sand, glint of dew, coyotes coming through the dawn.

1. Disproportionately set in the Southwest, and almost never the East, though, God knows, there's enough amazing landscape there. Also, disproportionately Westerns, but not just those.
2. A moment to be amazed by Robert Duvall: The man seems to play basically the same character in everything, these days, but he is still amazing. In Crazy Heart he gives great advice while fishing, and he's a bar owner who takes people to a detox center/AA meeting. The completely wild incongruity of this (I mean, it's like a slave owner who also hooks you up with the underground railroad) is never explained, except by Duvall's damn amazing face and that chuckle-grin.

3. Possible exception: Opening credits for The Sopronos?